Hosts India will take on Hong Kong in the last match of Group D of the AFC Asian Cup 2023 qualifiers at the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata on Tuesday.
Both India and Hong Kong have won their first two matches but the latter are ahead in terms of goal difference.
India, who are ranked 106th in the world, are considerably ahead of Hong Kong, who are ranked 147th.
The Blue Tigers will be buoyed by home support and start as favorites on Tuesday to top the group and directly qualify for the AFC Asian Cup 2023.
However, even if India go on to lose to or draw with Hong Kong, they can still qualify as one of the five best second-placed teams.
On that note, let’s take a look at three factors that might determine the outcome of Tuesday’s match.
#1 The team combination India decide to start with
India should once again start with a 4-2-3-1 combination, with Jeakson Singh and Suresh Singh playing in the double pivot. Liston Colaco should once again play in the No. 10 role, with Ashique Kuruniyan and Manvir Singh starting on the left and right flanks, respectively.
Ashique was particularly brilliant in the second half against Afghanistan with his speedy runs and registered an assist. Manvir, meanwhile, was substituted in each of India’s first two games. However, he performed reasonably well against Afghanistan.
The Afghan players succeeded in pressurizing Colaco with their heavy pressing and snatching, and the Goan midfielder can expect a similar test against Hong Kong on Tuesday.
In addition to the above, talismanic Sunil Chhetri, who has scored three goals in the first two matches, will be looking forward to adding to his tally of 83 international goals. However, Colaco starting as the central attacking midfielder would mean that Sahal Abdul Samad, who scored the match-winner against Afghanistan, would again have to start on the bench.
It would be interesting to see whether Igor Stimac decides to start with Sahal in central midfield and goes with Jeakson or Suresh as the lone defensive midfielder. India would then have to switch to a 4-1-4-1 formation and would be stronger offensively. However, Stimac is unlikely to take that risk and might think of using Sahal as a substitute again.
#2 India reinforcing their right side of attack and defense
It was evident from the first two matches that India were not as strong across the right flank as they were through the left. Right-back Roshan Singh has a stronger left foot and hence, has the tendency to move inside at times.
As a result, opposition teams take advantage. Hong Kong will also try to put pressure on Roshan by launching attacks through their left flank. Stimac might also consider playing Pritam Kotal in place of Roshan.
Roshan has also not been able to go into overlaps as effectively as left-back Akash Mishra has in the first two matches. Moreover, Colaco tends to operate through the inside-left channel and hence has not been able to combine well with Manvir. As a result, Manvir has not received as many balls as he would have liked in the first two matches.
India’s defensive midfielders should keep that in mind and play as many diagonal passes to an onrushing Manvir on the right flank as possible. Colcao should also try to shift to his right side at times and play passes to Manvir.
#3 India’s defense dealing with the aerial ability of Hong Kong’s forwards
Hong Kong have scored five goals in their first two matches and the Indian defense should be wary of their forwards. Matthew Elliott Wing Kai Orr has scored two goals so far and would once again pose a threat with his aerial ability.
Sandesh Jhingan and Anwar Ali, the Indian centre-backs, have performed well in their first two matches but looked a bit shaky while dealing with aerial balls against Afghanistan.
Afghanistan managed to score their only goal through a header from a corner. Hence, the Indian center-backs might need some help from the tall Jeakson in Tuesday’s match. It would also mean that Jeakson would have to curb his attacking instincts somewhat should India manage to score an early goal.
Suresh has shielded India's defense well in the first two matches and should once again position himself on top of the two-centre backs to cut the supply of balls from midfield for Hong Kong. India will also depend a lot on the consistent Gurpreet Sandhu to keep a clean sheet on Tuesday.