India need draw versus Bahrain to advance
SHARJAH: Expectations weren’t very high when Stephen Constantine’s India began their Asian Cup campaign in Abu Dhabi last Sunday. A surprise 4-1 win over Thailand and a promising performance against hosts UAE in a 2-0 defeat, have raised prospects of a place in the Round of 16. India take on Bahrain in their last group game at the Al-sharjah Stadium on Monday, with the knowledge that a draw will be enough to take them to the next round.
In the last two of the three editions they have played in, India failed to make it past the opening round of the Asian Cup. In 1964, when India finished runners-up, only four teams had taken part in a round robin format.
Currently second in the group with three points, the scenario for Constantine’s side is simple. A win will see India seal a top-2 place in the group, with the possibility of a top spot in the event of UAE failing to beat Thailand. A draw will take India to the next round, irrespective of what happens in the other group game. If UAE win or draw against Thai- land, India will be second in the group.
If Thailand beat UAE, India will finish the group third with a draw but will still progress to the next round as one of the best third-placed teams. As many as four of the third-placed teams from the six groups will make it to the last-16, and in at least three of these groups, the third-placed teams are guaranteed to finish with three points or less.
However, a loss will leave India at the mercy of other results. If India lose and UAE fail to beat Thailand, India will finish bottom of the group and will be out of the tournament. Constantine’s side will need to hope for a UAE win in such a scenario. However, even then, India will finish with just three points and progression to the next round will be dependent on the points tally and goal differences of all six third-placed teams.
Ahead of the crunch game, India will be high on confidence after two bright performances. Constantine decided to name an unchanged XI against UAE after the win over Thailand, and despite a crucial error from cen- tre-back Anas Edathodika in the second game, the English tactician will be expected to continue with his starting combination.
Star striker Sunil Chhetri will continue to lead the attacking line, with Halicharan Narzary behind him in a floating role and Udanta Singh and Ashique Kur- uniyan in the wings. The central midfield combination of Pronay Halder and Anirudh Thapa has worked well so far but may require Narzary to drop deep against Bahrain to counter the opposition’s physicality. Rowllin Borges will be another option for Constantine if he prefers a more conservative combination in the middle.
Barring the mistake that led to UAE’S opening goal, the backline of Pritam Kotal, Edathodika, Sandesh Jhingan and Subhasish Bose has provided able support to Gurpreet Singh Sandhu in goal. However, the defence could Scenario 1: India win – Top spot if UAE fail to beat Thailand; second spot if UAE win. Scenario 2: India draw – 2nd spot if UAE beat or draw vs Thailand; 3rd if Thailand bt UAE. Scenario 3: India lose and UAE beat Thailand – Third spot for India.
Scenario 4: India lose and UAE fail to beat Thailand – Fourth spot for India.
Qualification criteria: India will qualify in scenarios 1 and 2. In the case of scenario 3, qualification to the Round of 16 will be dependent on the standings of third-placed teams from the six groups. In scenario 4, India will be knocked out. find itself busy against the likes of Mohamed Al Romaihi on Monday.
Against UAE, India had failed to take advantage of a number of scoring chances and hit the woodwork twice. Against Bahrain, they can ill-afford to be as profligate in front of goal.
A win against Bahrain in Sharjah could see India top the group if hosts UAE fail to beat Thailand. Even a loss could see Stephen Constantine’s boys advance to the round of 16 if other results go their way.