Tough Kyrgyz test for India

Football Asian Cup qualifier

Tough Kyrgyz test for India
When Pavel Matiash steps on to the Sree Kanteerava stadium turf for the AFC Asian Cup qualifier tie against India on Tuesday, there is bound to be a sense of deja vu for the Kyrgyzstan goalkeeper.

Matiash was in the city a few weeks ago with his club Maziya S&RC for a crucial AFC Cup tie against Bengaluru FC. Though the six-feet five-inches-tall ’keeper had a good outing, he had no answer to a Sunil Chhetri free-kick that eventually decided the tie.

Matiash will be up against Chhetri again on Tuesday, in a totally different context altogether. Kyrgysztan are playing India in the Group ‘A’ game and the shot-stopper and his team will have to be wary of the Indian talisman’s quality.

Chhetri sat out the friendly against Nepal last week but is sure to start against Kyrgyzstan and will shoulder India’s hopes. Teaming up with Jackichand Singh and Jeje Lalpekhlua, Chhetri could prove to be a headache for the Kyrgyz defence as India eye another win at home.

“We (India) played really well (against Nepal),” Chhetri said when asked to assess the side’s performance against Nepal. “Keeping a clean sheet was very important and we did that. Coming into a game as crucial as this on the back of a win is very good. I am quite confident for tomorrow.”

The Indian team is on a seven-game winning streak in all competitions, a run that has had a telling impact on its ranking too. India are placed 100th on the FIFA charts and the head coach Stephen Constantine seems to have finally found the right men for his philosophy.

Upfront, if it’s Chhetri who’s leading the charge, in the midfield Constantine relies heavily on the creativity that Eugeneson Lyngdoh can bring. Againt Kyrgyzstan, this is likely to continue with the Shillong player expected to shoulder responsibility alongside a fit-again Rowlin Borges and Mohammed Rafique.

The Indian defence too has improved in the past two years and credit should go to Constantine for drilling in a robust and no-nonsense tactics into the backline. Led by Sandesh Jhingan and Anas Edathodika, with Gurpreet Singh Sandhu in the goal, the defence will have to be on their toes against a physical and quick Kyrgyz attack that prefers to use its physical superiority to great effect.
Their skipper Edgar Bernhardt, a key man in the midfield, plays for Rodinghausen, a club in the fourth division German league while Mirlan Murzaev, their highest scorer among active players, turns up for Usakspor, a team in the fourth tier of the Turkish league.

Though Murzaev’s numbers (five goals in 25 games) don’t do justice to the impact he can have, he can prove to be the gamechanger on his day. A perfect deep-lying forward, he can prove difficult to contain if given time and space. A threat both on and off the ball, the 27-year-old is also effective in the air. However, it’s his game awareness that makes him a dangerous player.

Indians have played Kyrgyzstan thrice in the past, beating them twice and the third one ending in Kyrgyz’s favour at the AFC Challenge Cup in 2010. But then this is a different Indian side, a team that’s been on a seven-game winning streak in all competitions. Though the odds do favour the visitors a little, in front of a vociferous Kanteerava crowd, India will be looking to make a strong impact.

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