India hold edge over Nepal in friendly as Chhetri returns
Boosted by the availability of star striker Sunil Chhetri after his timely recovery from a hamstring injury, hosts India go into the football friendly against lower-ranked Nepal here on Tuesday with their confidence high and as the favourites.
The international friendly is to be played at the Football Arena in Andheri Sports Complex where India's dramatic ascension to no. 100 in the FIFA rankings commenced last September with a 4-0 rout of Puerto Rico.
The Indian squad has been sweating it out at the same venue for three weeks now with only the players from Bengaluru FC and Mohun Bagan missing for the major part due to their club commitments.
With them joining the camp a few days ahead of the friendly against Nepal, which is being used as the tune-up for India's vital AFC Asian Cup Group A qualifier against Kyrgyzstan next week, national head coach Stephen Constantine would be keen to put his best team on the park and make them jell again as a combination.
The players had dispersed to fulfil their respective club commitments after notching up a memorable 1-0 win over Myanmar in the AFC Asian Cup group opener in March end and the main aim will be to reunite in a proper way for the June 13 game against Kyrgyzstan at Bengaluru.
Although key striker Chhetri is fit enough to play, he was unlikely to be included in the friendly as a precaution for the more important game against Kyrgyzstan, said Constantine on Monday.
"(Norway-based goalkeeper) Gurpreet Singh will lead the side. Sunil may not play against Nepal. The AFC Asian Cup qualifier is more important than a friendly. It's just to protect him. He's not 22 anymore. As you get older you will have to put up with injuries and it gets longer to recover," the Englishman explained.
India were hovering in the 170s when they last played against Nepal and Constantine described the ascent as "not an easy journey."
"It was a result of a lot of hard work and commitment from everyone concerned - players, support staff and the rest.
FIFA ranking is just one aspect, a number. It depends on a number of variations," he said.
The team will obviously miss the services of winger Udanta Singh, who has picked up a serious hamstring injury and is out of this game as well as the more important one against the Kyrgyz Republic.
It was Udanta who had laid the perfect pass for Chhetri to bulge the net in the dying moments of the game against Myanmar in Yangoon on March 28. India will also miss the services of C K Vineet, said Constantine.
Coming to the India-Nepal football rivalry, the hosts have not lost to their north-eastern neighbours for 18 years, their last defeat - a 0-4 rout - happening in the 1999