Stern Turkmenistan test awaits India, Chhetri doubtful
Star striker Sunil Chhetri remained doubtful for India’s 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier against Turkmenistan here on Tuesday, as the beleaguered home team seeks to end its disappointing campaign on a winning note.
A win on Tuesday does not change much for India as they will still finish at the bottom of Group ‘D’ below tiny Pacific Island nation Guam. It has some significance regarding the team’s chances for qualifying in 2019 Asian Cup.
Whatever the result on Tuesday, India will not get a direct entry into the qualification round of the Asian Cup. The Stephen Constantine-coach side will still have the ignominy of featuring in a play-off round to even feature in another qualifying round of the 2019 Asian Cup.
A win against Turkmenistan would put India against a lesser opposition in the play-off, thereby increasing their chance of making it to the qualifiers of the Asian Cup.
India, who have just three points from their lone win against Guam last year, are coming into Tuesday’s Joint Qualification Round 2 match following a 0-4 drubbing away at the hands of continental giants Iran last week.
Though the wounds of the big defeat are still fresh, the team has been boosted by the return of Chhetri, who sweated it out on the field on the eve of the match.
Cheif coach Stephen Constantine though was not committal on Chhetri’s participation in the game at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium on Tuesday.
In the absence of Chhetri, the country’s all-time highest scorer in the international arena, Jeje Lalpekhlua led the 160th ranked nation at the famous Azadi Stadium in Tehran.
They put up a brave fight in the first half, bur conceded thrice in the second to suffer another heavy defeat.
Turkmenistan, on 10 points currently, are also out of the 2018 World Cup but have already sealed their progress into the third qualifying round of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup as they are expected to still finish at third in the group even if they lose on Tuesday.
It won’t be an easy task for Constantine’s wards as the visitors are entering the game on the back of an impressive 2-1 win over Oman in November last year and will be the favourites for Tuesday’s match after defeating India by the same score-line in the first leg in September.
India have welcomed their captain Chhetri back into the squad after missed out against Iran due to a groin injury sustained while playing for Bengaluru FC in the I-League.
The striker, even if he starts, is unlikely to feature for the entire 90 minutes. Meanwhile, Eugeneson Lyngdoh is still sidelined with a calf injury.
“We will give our cent percent on the pitch as always and even though Turkmenistan are difficult opponents we will play to win,” Constantine said.
As part of his philosophy Constantine has handed debuts to many young talents of Indian football in recent months -- the latest being the 19-year old Udanta Singh against Iran.