Mumbai: A buoyant India will take on face Nepal in an international friendly at the Mumbai Football Arena here on Tuesday. The neighbours were close to one another in rankings a couple of years ago but India has vastly improved to 100 from 173 while Nepal are still languishing at 169 in the latest FIFA rankings.
Both India and Nepal will treat it as a preparatory game to test their sides ahead of their AFC Asian Cup qualifier game on June 13.
India host Kyrgyzstan while Nepal clash with Yemen. India won their first qualifier 1-0 against Myanmar while Nepal lost 1-4 to Philippines.
The only concern for India are the injuries to Bengaluru FC players CK Vineeth and Udanta Singh. Skipper Sunil Chhetri, who made a comeback in the AFC Cup game last week is rested for Tuesday’s game. Goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu will lead the Blues against Nepal.
“We are cautious with him and he will no play any part against Nepal. We are trying to protect him as much as we can, he isn’t 22 anymore,” said India head coach Stephen Constantine on Chhetri, who returned from a hamstring injury for the AFC game in Bengaluru.
“I would like Sunil Chhetri to be leading the team in the AFC Asian Cup in 2019, if we qualify. The day he hangs his boots, it will be huge loss for Indian football, but we have to be prepared for it,” said Constantine.
The Indians are coming in to the match on the back of six consecutive wins including the unofficial game against Bhutan. But Constantine felt every opponent brings a different challenge.
“There are no easy teams at international level. Every team throws different challenge and we expect (a) tough game from Nepal as always. We hope to win and hope to get decent performances from some players who will be trying to stake their claim in starting XI against Kyrgyzstan,” Constantine said.
Difficult match: Gyotoku
Nepal’s Japanese coach Koji Gyotoku admitted it would be difficult against India. “We are preparing for Asian Cup qualifier against Yemen next week. This is very important match. It will be difficult but we want to do our best and get the result to get confidence. The Indian team has improved so much in 2-3 years. The players get knowledge from foreign head coach and we have big chance to improve,” he said.
‘Nepal on a learning curve’
Nepal have proven to be tricky customers for India in the past but the deadly earthquake that struck the Himalayan country two years ago which destroy almost everything including their national football stadium, has seen them slip up.
It meant the Nepal team had to make do with the artificial turf at the Nepal Football Association academy for training and couldn’t host any international games thus far.
The current team led by Biraj Maharjan has mostly youngsters and only two players in experienced midfielder Rohit Chand (Indonesia) and goalkeeper Kiran Kumar Chemjong Limbu (Maldives) plying their trade outside.
“(The) National stadium is broken and undergoing renovation. We still can’t use it and need to go outside to play. Players though play well and learn from me and the Japan Football Association gives all the support. The team is on a learning curve and making effort. Nepal football can improve a lot,” Nepal’s Japanese coach Koji Gyotoku said....