India all set to take Lebanon in World cup soccer qualifier in Beirut today
Oct 08: Indian team upbeat after their Nehru cup victory
Indian football team is all set to take on Lebanon, who will play in their own courtyard, starting off their 2010 FIFA World cup qualifying campaign in the first round of the Asian qualifiers, at Beirut in Lebanon later tonight at 9 pm local time (11:30 pm IST)
India will begin their journey with self-belief on a road that is not much travelled and is full of bumps and rough ends, after riding high in confidence with their latest Nehru Cup victory.
The rankings of both the teams will not make much of a difference, as Lebanon (144) is only a step ahead to Indians (145). India has improved their rankings significantly since the Nehru cup win.
A lot will depend on Monday's result, and of that in the home tie in Chennai on October 28, as to which way Indian campaign will be heading on this rough boulevard.
Indian coach Bob Houghton is quite optimistic about his team's capability and going by the combined spirit shown by the boys.
"The boys are in good spirit and I think we have had the best preparation, taking in a tough friendly in the bargain," the coach said to Dubai daily Gulf News.
"Yes it's about continuing the momentum but it's not just about that either. This is a World Cup qualifying tie and nobody likes going out in the first round," India skipper Bhaichung Bhutia said from the team hotel after reaching in Beirut.
The Indian team landed up in Lebanon after an 11-day long training camp. The Indian boys are very high in spirits as they starts off their campaign after posting 2-1 friendly win over Al Nasr, a top club in the UAE during their preparation camp.
Most of the players suffered injuries during the friendly game against Al Nasr are back in shape except Tarif Ahmad Shaikh, who is still nursing a sore ankle.
Goalkeeper Sandip Nandy and striker Abhishek Yadav have already been sent home due to injuries in the same match.
"Injuries are very much part of the game. We still have a few minor ones in bits and pieces, but all the players should be ready for the qualifier," Houghton said.
"One can never gamble in football. Our focus is to play well and give a good account of what we are capable of as a team," added the Indian coach.
"We have to bear in mind that these qualifiers are in two legs, and Monday's match is only the first half. We will still have to play at home against Lebanon," Houghton said.
"Things are looking good. If we play to our potential, it will be a good game. After the Al Nasr game last week, the spirit is good and the confidence is like what we had during the Nehru Cup," said Bhutia.
He also said that he hadn't played Lebanon before but the boys had a fair knowledge about them, as they watched them lose 0-1 to Syria in the West Asian Football Federation Championships.
India also have a psychological edge over their opponents, as the Lebanese outfit is not in a good frame of mind, as they lost their last three matches (0-1 to Syria, 0-3 to Jordan and 1-1 with the UAE away in a friendly on September 23) while Indian boys are skying high in their confidence after clinching the Nehru Cup title.
Left back N.S. Manju has recovered from the injury that is a good sign for India. He will surely make his place in the first 11. Renedy Singh could come in place of K.Ajayan and Clifford Miranda on the left side of the midfield. Though Manjit scored the winner against Al Nasr, it is possible that Houghton would stick to the tried and trusted combination of Bhutia and Sunil Chhetri.
Subrata Pal has been in excellent form under the bars. Veteran Mahesh Gawli will spearhead the defence with NS Manju, Surkumar Singh and the young talent Gourmangi Singh. It will be a tough challenge for the Lebanese strikers to get past these four.
Renedy Singh and Steven Dias along with NP Pradeep and Climax Lawrence would be up with their precise crosses from the flanks. Renedy is also famous for his accurate and strong free kicks.
On the other hand Lebanon will be heavily banking upon their star striker Mohammad Ghaddar, who has been in prolific form as was seen by his superb display in the AFC Cup quarterfinal clash against Mahindra United where he repeatedly dodged past the defenders with a lot of ease.
Nassri Aounis is a very agile custodian of Lebanon and will hold the goalpost. Mohammad Ali Wassef is the dark horse as his swift and moves can give opposition defenders a run for their money while Captain Nicholas Zaide and Youssef Mohammad will be taking charge of the Lebanese defence and would be tough to negotiate.
All in all an exciting encounter is on the cards and the football lovers back home are certainly expecting something spectacular from the Indian side to keep up Nehru cup glory, but this time on a foreign soil.
India will meet Lebanon in their home tie in Chennai on October 28.
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