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AFC Challenge Cup in mind as India play Palestine

With less than a month left for the important AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers, India would look to fine-tune their combination in their international football friendly against Palestine on Wednesday.

Coach Wim Koevermans has added a few new faces and some players who had been in the sidelines for a while in his 23-man squad for the match, hoping to find out who would go to the Myanmar capital of Yangon for the March 2-6 AFC Challenge Cup Group A qualifiers.

The Dutch tactician has recalled Gurjinder Kumar, Raju Gaikwad, Lalkamal Bhowmick, Sushil Kumar while C K Vineeth and Arata Izumi made their first forays into the national squad, the latter becoming the first Person of Indian Origin to do so.

Palestine, who are ranked 152nd in FIFA charts as compared to India’s 166th, have nine players who did national duty in the West Asia Cup last December.

For Koevermans, it would be important to win the match as India have not won an international friendly for a long time, the latest defeat being the 0-2 result against Singapore in October last year.

A win will also give India points in the FIFA rankings irrespective of whether the visitors come full strength or not as the match will be played on an international friendly day.

‘Palestine look a very competent side. Nine of their players who had done duty in West Asia Cup in December are in the squad. We have watched them in videos, they are a powerful side,’ Koevermans said.

‘It will be an interesting match for sure,’ he added. Though ranked 14 places below the visitors, India should aim to beat Palestine with a good crowd expected to turn up at the Nehru Stadium, which is hosting an international match after a long time.

India’s concern would though be how Sunil Chhetri inspires his team-mates with the captain himself lacking competitive match practice at Sporting Lisbon’s ‘B’ team. It will also have to be seen whether Koevermans gives Japanese-born Izumi a debut.
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