Bengaluru: The odds are stacked heavily against beleaguered India as they brace up for the uphill task of locking horns with Asian toppers Iran in the 2018 World Cup and 2019 Asian Cup football qualifiers here tomorrow.
Though there are no injury worries for the Indian team, Iran will enter the Group D match at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium as firm favourites. While the hosts will be contend with a respectable showing, Iran, ranked 40 in the FIFA ladder, will look to
garner full points and top the group.
Form and history does not inspire confidence for the supporters of the Indian team. The last time India beat Iran was way back in 1959, with the first victory coming in the final of the 1951 Asian Games in New Delhi. But the current scenario is bleak for the hosts and with just one win from their last five games, the 155th ranked India will have their task cut out when they take on the Asian giants.
Sitting at the bottom of group, India have lost both their qualifiers so far to Oman and tiny Guam. They played a warm-up match to conclude their preparatory camp versus Nepal and the match ended in a goalless draw, doing little to inspire confidence. The Indian team now need to buckle up for their sternest test so far.
India's set-up against Nepal showed the coach was still experimenting with the team at his disposal and it will be interesting to see if he reverts to traditional personnel in the line-up.
Arnab Mondal, rested against Nepal, could return to the team's central defense alongside the in-form Sandesh Jhingan, as they form India's best partnership at the back. Dhanpal Ganesh looked solid against Nepal.
Coach Stephen Constantine's best XI will also include Robin Singh and skipper Sunil Chhetri upfront with Jackichand Singh providing support. Eugeneson Lyngdoh, Ganesh, Pronay Halder and Sehnaj Singh will likely man the midfield. Rino Anto or Pritam Kotal will have Narayan Das as his partner on the opposite flank.
India have conceded 14 goals in six games, scoring five. The visitors are full of confidence as witnessed in their last game versus Guam. The Iranians have played 12 games since their exit at the group stages of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and have won eight of them, including a famous victory over Copa America winners Chile, at the Azadi stadium.
Carlos Queiroz, their gaffer, is vastly experienced at this stage and will be aware of how to mitigate the continent's 27th ranked nation away from home. The Portuguese also has a relatively young side at his disposal.
Sardar Azmoun, nicknamed the 'Messi of Iran', will be Queiroz's key man. At just 20 years of age, the attacker has seven goals in 11 internationals. Skipper Andranik Teymourian and Jalal Hosseini have a combined total caps of 189.
Ashkan Dejagah, an English Premier League (EPL) winger, will add impetus to the right side of the park. The focus will also be on left winger Ehsan Hajsafi, currently plying his trade with FSV Frankfurt in the second tier of Bundesliga.
"We all know who we are playing tomorrow. Iran are 40th in the world and the best team in Asia. The most important thing is to understand what we have trained and how we have trained," Chhetri said.
"It's always difficult to play exactly the way you want when you play such high ranked team. We need to be fit and do
Constantine said: "Iran are one of the best sides in Asia. They are where they are because of the things they have done in the past and are doing it even presently.
"There is a great deal of respect for Iran but don't mistake that for fear. It's 11 versus 11 on the field. If we work hard there is a chance that we can take something from this game; and I believe we can.
"International football is a different platform altogether. When you are scouting players for a certain position you need to scout with certain aspects in mind, for example, a central defender needs to be tall and so does a goalkeeper," the Briton added.
In Pictures: Sex scandals involving Indian politicians
Photos: Sports stars who shocked the world with their retirement
Photos: Abhishek Bachchan and Farah Khan at Boman Irani's birthday bash
Spotted: Shah Rukh Khan at Morani's bungalow in Mumbai
Spotted: Sonam Kapoor and sister Rhea at Mumbai airport