After beating Afghanistan and Cambodia, India and Hong Kong are tied on six points, with the latter leading on better goal difference, ahead of the final game of the Asian Cup qualifiers. ‘AFC at Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan on Wednesday.
A win will secure either team first place in Group D and an Asian Cup berth, while a draw or second place will mean they will have to rely on results in other places. parts of the continent to seal qualification.
India are trying to qualify for successive AFC Asian Cups for the first time ever, having done so in 2019, with their previous appearances coming in 2011, 1984 and 1964.
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Going by the results of past encounters, India have a slight advantage, having won 7 of the 15 clashes and Hong Kong managing to win four. In the last two encounters, however, India have not emerged victorious against Hong Kong, losing 1-2 in 2009 and 0-1 in 2010.
Ahead of the final group stage qualifier, Indian men’s football team head coach Igor Stimac highlighted the threat posed by Hong Kong.
“We have to complement Hong Kong for what they showed in their first two games and rightly they are leading the group at the moment as they have a better goal difference. They are a well organized and disciplined team with enough quality to defend and attack, but we have studied their strengths and weaknesses, and we know what we need to do to win this game,” Stimac told the pre-game press conference.
“Of course this game is just as important as the previous two games, there is less pressure obviously but no less hunger and motivation for us to go out, to start from the first minute like we did against the club. Afghanistan and do everything to win this game,” he added.
Igor Stimac also revealed he had a ‘pleasant and wonderful’ headache before the match when it came to team selection, given the likes of Pritam Kotal, Subhasish Bose, Anirudh Thapa, SahalAbdul Samad, Mohammed Yasir and Ishan Pandita, who don’t have considerable playing time.
“We will train and then decide who needs to be rested and who will start against Hong Kong. But who do you pick and who do you leave out? That’s my main worry, and I love that worry. I love that kind of a headache, you know, it’s a nice, wonderful headache.
Indian talisman Sunil Chhetri, who has already scored three important goals in the opening two matches, said he ended the tournament on a “high note”.
“There is a big prize at the end which is qualifying for the Asian Cup. Even though we have done well in the last two games, we haven’t achieved anything yet. What we have learned is to keep everything aside. We just have to focus on the next game and end the tournament on a high note,” said Chhetri.
Opening up on the significance of the clash against Hong Kong, Chhetri said; “It’s very, very special because we want to win this tournament. And we want to go to the Asian Cup. We were there at the Asian Cup last time and we know the feeling of being around the best in Asia is what we want to do. So that’s the plan. And that’s why this tournament is very, very special for us.
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