FIFA qualifers: Draw-or-die match for India tonight against Turkmenistan
Languishing in last place in pool having lost three qualifiers, Chhetri & Co need at least a draw against Turkmenistan to keep faint hopes alive
Ashgabat (Turkmenistan): Languishing at the bottom of the group, an under-prepared India take on Turkmenistan in a crucial match of the 2018 FIFA World Cup football qualifying round today.
India players celebrate Sunil Chhetri's goal against Oman at Kanteerawa Stadium in Bangalore in June. Pic/AFP
India, who are yet to open account after losing all their earlier three matches, are short on preparations as they reached here without any camp after losing to Iran 0-3 on September 8 in Bangalore.
All India Football Federation (AIFF) did not call for a camp and players in Indian Super League sides were released only on Sunday evening.
They landed in Turkmenistan on Monday evening after spending 16 hours in flight and transit and take on the central Asian nation in the Group D match in a do-or-die battle at the Kopetdag Stadium.
Stephen Constantine's boys, who are currently ranked 167th at FIFA charts, will have to win or at least draw today's match against the home side ranked higher at 155th. But that will not be an easy task against a Turkmenistan side who have played out a 1-1 draw against formidable Iran at home in June.
India are already in a difficult position to make the cut for the final round but a loss today will erase any faint hope of advancing further in the qualifying round.
Constantine's boys, no doubt, lack in experience as many of them have played just a few international matches but they have not done anything great by their own standard either, losing to Guam 1-2 in their second match of the second round qualifying campaign.
They put up a gritty fight but were outplayed in the end by Oman (1-2) in the first match. India could not have beaten Iran, Asia's highest ranked side, and they lost 0-3, expectedly, but they can take some solace from the fight they gave to their formidable opponents in the first half.
For the record, the two countries have played five times against each other with both sides having won two each while the other ended in a draw. The Indian team is also carrying some injuries as Constantine said at the pre-match press conference yesterday.
"We have some injuries in our squad but we know our strengths and we are ready," he said. With a couple of players undergoing last minute fitness tests, Constantine has not been able to zero down on his playing XI. "We are also missing Dhanpal Ganesh who was injured in the last match against Iran," Sunil Chhetri, who captained against Iran, said.
"We have watched some videos of Turkmenistan. They are very strong at home. "We played against Iran at home in our last match and stay aware of Iran's might even when they play away. And Turkmenistan held Iran at home," Chhetri added. "We respect Turkmenistan. We have even watched the video of their match against Oman. They have some talented players. But we are ready for that."
Constantine conceded that it would be a difficult match tomorrow against Turkmenistan. "We are aware of the difficult task at hand. Turkmenistan had a fantastic result against Iran. It speaks about the ability and determination of the team," he said.