India U-23 are up against Kyrgyzstan on the last matchday of the AFC U-23 Asian Cup Qualifiers at the Fujairah Stadium in Fujairah, UAE. Both teams got their qualifying campaigns off to a flyer. India beat Oman and Kyrgyzstan edged out UAE on the opening day.
However, India were then defeated 1-0 by UAE on Wednesday via an 82nd minute penalty from Abdulla Idrees. Kyrgyzstan were handed a late blow by Oman as well. Arshad Al-Alawi's free-kick found the top corner in the 92nd minute handing Oman a 1-0 win.
Qualification scenario for the AFC U-23 Asian Cup
These results mean that there is nothing to separate all four sides in the group. India, UAE, Oman and Kyrgyzstan are all level on three points and have identical goal difference and goals scored. Only the group winners and the four best runners-up qualify for the 2022 AFC U-23 Asian Cup.
With head-to-head being the first tiebreaker criteria on equal points, India's fate in the qualifiers highly depends on the Oman vs UAE match. A draw or a win for Oman would mean that India will qualify for the U-23 Asian Cup by beating Kyrgyzstan.
But if UAE beat Oman, India cannot top the group even if they win against Kyrgyzstan. The Blue Colts can then only qualify as one of the best runners-up. For that, it would require a big-margin win over Kyrgyzstan and favors from other groups.
All you need to know about Kyrgyzstan U-23
Like India, Kyrgyzstan have never qualified for the AFC U-23 Asian Cup. The White Falcons are the lowest-ranked team in the group. But they surprised everyone by beating the hosts United Arab Emirates 2-1 in their first match. It was Kyrgyzstan U-23s first win in an official competition since 2012.
To prepare for the U-23 Asian Cup Qualifiers, Kyrgyzstan played an unofficial friendly match against the Bangladesh senior side in September. The match, played in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek, saw the hosts win 3-2 against their South Asian visitors.
In March 2021, Kyrgyzstan U-23s also took part in the Three Nations Cup in Kathmandu, where they faced the senior teams of Nepal and Bangladesh. However, the young Kyrgyz side were unable to score in either match, losing 0-1 to Bangladesh and drawing 0-0 with Nepal.
Kyrgyzstan so far at the U-23 Asian Cup Qualifiers
As mentioned before, Kyrgyzstan were off to a dream start after their come-from-behind 2-1 win over UAE. Down 0-1 at half-time, the White Falcons held their own before getting their equalizer thanks to Amir Zhaparov's sumptuous free-kick.
With the hosts pushing for a winner late in the game, Kyrgyzstan were able to exploit spaces at the back. Arlen Sharshenbekov scored from a brilliant back-heel after a pass from Ernaz Abilov to grab a 2-1 win for the central Asians.
Kyrgyzstan were given a taste of their own medicine by Oman in the second match. Locked goalless till 90 minutes, the deadlock was finally broken in injury time after Arshad Al-Alawi found the top corner from his amazing free-kick.
A few minutes earlier, Gulzhigit Borubaev had hit the crossbar for Kyrgyzstan. Had that gone in, the story of that match and also the whole group would have been totally different.
Kyrgyzstan U-23 style of play and key players
The Kyrgyz young guns have been defensively very alert and are masters in closing down spaces. Their pace on the wings enables them to launch counter attacks in the blink of an eye. The Indian midfield, in particular, would have to be really careful not to get caught in possession.
Kyrgyzstan's best performer has been their goalkeeper Erzhan Tokotaev. The 21-year-old had a sensational evening against Oman. It was only due to his heroic saves that Kyrgyzstan remained in the game until the very end.
However, Tokotaev committed an error in the match against UAE which led to a goal for the hosts. But it is the only blemish in an otherwise great tournament for him.
The battle in the midfield could be very crucial in the match between India and Kyrgyzstan. Important names in the Kyrgyz midfield include Arlen Sharshenbekov, Temirbolot Tapaev and Alimardon Shukurov. The latter two have already been capped for the Kyrgyzstan senior side and Shukurov also scored three goals in World Cup qualification.
Forward Ryskeldi Artykbaev is another player in this U-23 squad who has already made his senior international debut. Amir Zhaparov has already shown what he can do with set-pieces after his cracking free-kick goal against UAE.
Up front, Maksat Alygulov is expected to present a big test for the Indian defense. There will be some changes in the Kyrgyz backline as Maksat Dzhakybaliev is suspended for the match after being sent off against Oman.
It could be a historic day for both these teams chasing their first-ever U-23 Asian Cup qualification. In this do-or-die fixture, only a victory will do for either side and we may even see them throw caution to the wind. Kyrgyzstan, similar to India, have been prone to individual mistakes on occasions.
Igor Štimac's young men will need to take advantage and make sure they don't repeat the errors of the previous games.
Q. Who will be the more important figure for India against Kyrgyzstan?
Vikram Partap Singh
17 votes so far