With Diwali celebrations on across the country, the Indian national football team will be looking for the light at the end of the tunnel, in what has turned out to be a miserable qualification campaign for them. They face Guam in a Group D fixture of the second qualification round, at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru, as they look to avenge the 2-1 loss suffered in the reverse fixture in June.
Venue and Telecast Details
Venue: Sree Kanteerava Stadium, Bengaluru
Kickoff: 7 pm IST.
Live Telecast: Sony Six SD and HD
Manager Stephen Constantine has a near full squad available for selection, with Pronay Halder the only unavailability. The British-Cypriot looked keen to regain some lost pride and confidence and give the adoring fans in Bengaluru a Diwali present.
Goalkeeper Gurpreet Sandhu was in fabulous form against Turkmenistan and Oman in the last two games, and the stopper will be high on confidence, having helped his club, Stabaek qualify for the Europa League for next season.
Gurpreet's goal will be protected by Sandesh Jhingan and Arnab Mondal, both of whom have established themselves at the heart of the Indian defense. Lalchhaunmawia Fanai has been steady at left back, with Aiborlang Khongjee or Pritam Kotal expected to fit in as Right Back.
As usual, the burden in midfield will fall on the shoulders of Eugeneson Lyngdoh, who has been impressive for FC Pune City in the ISL. The man from Meghalaya is expected to be partnered by Sehnaj Singh, who has been a regular for Roberto Carlos's Delhi Dynamos.
Sehnaj's ISL team-mates Robin Singh and Francis Fernandes are expected to line up on the flanks in a lineup similar to what India played against Iran at the same venue a couple of months ago.
As always, there will be huge expectations from Sunil Chhetri. The all-time top goal scorer for India plays for Bengaluru FC in the I-League and is revered by the faithful in the city. Chhetri comes into the game on the back of 6 goals in 6 ISL games, including a hat-trick. It is a feat which has put him on top of the goalscorers list in the ISL. Chhetri is likely to be partnered up front by Jeje Lalpekhlua.
Incidentally, Chhetri is the only Indian to have found the net throughout the current qualification campaign.
For Guam, a promising start to the campaign was undone by a 1-0 loss in Turkmenistan, but they come into the game with the better form, and indeed the better FIFA ranking. The Matao are ranked 17 places above India, and will look to justify that as they look to inject life back into their campaign.
A large number of the Guam players ply their trade in the USA, and that might have played a part in them arriving early in Bengaluru to get acclimatized to the conditions.
Guam will be without goalkeeper Dallas Jaye, who has not traveled with the team. That means Douglas Herrick is likely to keep his place between the sticks.
The defense will be spearheaded by Shawn Nicklaw and Jonathan Romero, with skipper Jason Cunliffe expected to lead their midfield.
Brandon McDonald is one of only two Guam players who have scored in this phase of the qualifiers, and he is once again expected to start.
India: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Pritam Kotal, Arnab Mondal, Sandesh Jhingan, Lalchhaunmawia Fanai, Sehnaj Singh, Eugeneson Lyngdoh, Francis Fernandes, Robin Singh, Sunil Chhetri, Jeje Lalpekhlua
Guam: Douglas Herrick, Shawn Nicklaw, Mason Douglas, Jonathan Romero, Justin David, Brandon McDonald, Jason Cunliffe, Ryan Guy, Travis Nicklaw, Shawn Malcolm, John Matkin
For Guam, a playoff place is at stake, and a victory here would go a long way to achieving that. For Constantine's Blue Tigers, though, there is nothing but pride at stake. Finishing rock bottom would be a huge dent to their confidence, and they will look to light up Bengaluru on Diwali night.