Match Preview: Myanmar vs India – AFC Challenge Cup 2014 qualifiers
Stadium: Thuwunna Youth Training Center Stadium, Yangon, Myanmar
Kick-off: Wednesday, March 6, 17:45 IST
Myanmar got their qualifying campaign off to a flying start against Guam, but could only manage a 1-1 draw against Chinese Taipei in their second game despite taking the lead. The result leaves the South-East Asian nation in a must-win situation in this game as anything less would see them depend on results in other groups and hope that they finish among the two best second-placed teams. Myanmar would be hoping to make the most of their home advantage, and will be well aware of India’s poor record on foreign soil. On a positive note, Myanmar have had six different scorers in the two matches so far, and South Korean coach Park Sung-Hwa would hope for at least half of them to step up and make a difference in this do-or-die game.
The hosts are placed three spots above India in the FIFA Rankings at 164 and the fixture sees the renewal of a very old rivalry as India and Myanmar (formerly Burma) used to be two of the best teams in the continent in the 1960s. India have had the upper hand recently, as they won the last meeting 1-0 when the nations clashed in the semi-finals of the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup in Hyderabad. Myanmar haven’t played in the Challenge Cup ever since, and will be determined to confirm their return to the competition with a win over India in front of their home fans. The Under-23 teams of the two countries met in a two-legged 2012 Olympics qualifier in 2011. India won that tie 3-2 and both nations have some players from those U-23 sides currently in the national team. Myanmar will be hoping for a change in fortunes against India and to achieve the same, their home crowd must act as the 12th man.
For long periods in the opener against Chinese Taipei, India’s Australia 2015 dream looked in jeopardy as the score remained 1-1 with only stoppage time remaining. But Robin Singh’s injury-time winner gave three important points and India built on that winning start by thrashing minnows Guam 4-0 in the second game. As a result, the 2008 Challenge Cup champions only need a point in this game to book their place in the 2014 edition in Maldives as Group A winners. Although qualification is the minimum target for Wim Koevermans, the Dutchman would also be eager to qualify with a 100 percent record, especially because it would also mean beating a higher ranked opponent and thus boosting the chances of an improvement in the FIFA Rankings later this month.
Besides the heavy win over Guam, the return of Indian captain Sunil Chhetri to goal scoring form will be a big positive for Koevermans, but the biggest plus point of the two matches has been the performance of Jewel Raja. India’s head coach has surprised many by refusing to field two strikers against lower-ranked nations, but the persistence with Jewel just behind Sunil has paid off brilliantly as the Mohun Bagan medio has scored in both games. The clean sheet will also make Koevermans happy, but he would be concerned with the amount of chances his team wasted in the two games. India will have to be clinical against Myanmar and not make any mistakes at the back as they wouldn’t want to leave their fate in other teams’ hands. Two years ago, the India U-23 side were pelted with stones by the local crowd after getting a decisive draw in Yangon. A similar result will be good enough this time around also, but the Indian camp would hope to be treated in a better way by the Myanmar faithful.
The South-East Asian nation’s only win in the last five matches came against minnows Guam. They have had some decent results under South Korean Park, who took over in December 2011, but are yet to beat a nation that has previously played in the Asian Cup.
India are on course to win three matches in a row for the first time under Wim Koevermans, but they haven’t beaten a nation in their own turf since beating Maldives 1-0 in a group game of the 2008 SAFF Cup.
Myanmar – Pai Soe
The 25-year-old attacking midfielder got on the score sheet against Guam and has six international goals to his name. Pai will be aiming to influence this game and inspire Myanmar to automatic qualification.
India – Subrata Pal
Subrata’s club form has been poor, but he has always been consistent for the national team and India will need him to come up with a top performance to ensure the point that they need to qualify automatically.