Igor Stimac’s men take over the United Arab Emirates side on March 29.
Indian Football Team came from a goal down to snatch a draw against Oman in their first friendly encounter. It was the third time the sides met in the last two years, with Oman winning both the previous encounters. Nevertheless, Stimac’s men prevented the Asian giants from making it a hat-trick thanks to a spirited second-half performance.
The Blue Tigers fell behind in their match against Oman in the first half, after debutant Chinglensana Singh deflected a cross past Amrinder Singh in goal. However, the young Indian side hit right back after the break and levelled the match – another debutant, Bipin Singh, providing the cross for Manvir Singh to head in.
In the absence of several key senior figures – including captain Sunil Chhetri – Stimac handed a debut to ten players. Ashutosh Mehta, Ashish Mishra, Chinglensana Singh, Mashoor Shereef, Bipin Singh, Suresh Wangjam, Jeakson Singh, Mohammad Yasir, Lalengmawia, and Ishan Pandita – were handed their first international caps by the Croat. There could be further debuts to come against UAE, should Stimac select Liston Colaco and Dheeraj Singh Moirangthem to play.
The memories of a gut-wrenching loss against the UAE will be fresh in the minds of Indian football fans. The Blue Tigers faced Al Abyad in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, with the latter acting as the host nation. The two teams met in their second group stage match, with UAE comfortably beating India on the night by two goals to nil – Khalfan Mubarak and Ali Mabkhout the goalscorers. India would bow out of the competition at the group stage, following a loss against Bahrain in their final match.
Stimac’s men will be looking for revenge when they face UAE in their friendly match. The pair has a long history between them, having played fourteen times against each other. India have been at the wrong end most of those times, winning twice while losing nine times. Their last win against the West Asian side came two decades ago in a FIFA World Cup qualifiers – Jules Alberto Dias the sole goalscorer that day.
Bipin Singh: One of India’s most in-form players, Singh could be handed his first start for the Blue Tigers by Stimac against UAE. The 26-year-old started against Oman and impacted the game positively. It was his cross that allowed Manvir Singh to head the ball in and level the match.
Ishan Pandita: An unconventional career path has led Pandita to the Indian National Team. Now among the Blue Tigers, Pandita will look to secure his long term place in Stimac’s plans. The forward, who played for FC Goa in the 2020/21 Indian Super League season, started the match against Oman. He looked lively at times but was devoid of service from his midfielders. Stimac will look to correct that against UAE, while Pandita will hope to make the most of it.
Ali Mabkhout: With 65 goals in 85 matches, Mabkhout is not only UAE’s most prolific goalscorer but also among the best in Asia. The striker is a force to be reckoned with, as India learnt the hard way during their AFC Asian Cup encounter. The 30-year-old will give the Indian defence a lot to think about, and cutting the supply to him would help the Blue Tigers move towards a positive result.
Walid Abbas: Going up against the experienced Abbas will be a true test of the Indian forwards’ creativity. The veteran defender has 80 caps to his name for UAE so far. He is also the current captain of the national team. A rock in the defence, he could potentially spoil the party for Stimac’s young attackers.
There is a fresh feeling around the current Indian squad – whether that is because of the developing tactical understanding or the emergence of several promising youngsters, only time will tell. The Blue Tigers’ second-half performance against Oman showed plenty of promise. It is something Stimac will look to build upon in their match against UAE.
However, it won’t exactly be a walk in the park for the South Asian side. UAE, after all, are among the stronger teams on the continent. They will prove to be a tough challenge for India to deal with.
Coached by 2010 FIFA World Cup finalist Bert van Marwijk, the UAE team are the better-placed side to record a win in the forthcoming friendly. Nevertheless, they will need to be wary of the Indian youngsters, many of whom are looking to step up in the absence of several senior members of the squad.