Bengaluru: High on confidence following a six-game winning streak, India will face their toughest test this year when they take on Kyrgyz Republic in an AFC Asian Cup qualifying round football match.
India have come into the game after winning six official international matches on the trot, including a 2-0 victory over Nepal last week, and they would fancy their chances against the central Asians in the home leg tie at Sree Kanteerava Stadium.
The Stephen Constantine-coached Indian side are ranked at exactly 100 while Kyrgyz Republic are 132nd in the latest FIFA rankings. Both the sides are tied at three points each from their opening fixture wins in Group A.
Whoever win tomorrow will brighten their chances of qualifying for the main tournament in UAE in 2019. Two teams from each of the six groups will qualify for the 2019 tournament.
Macau and Myanmar are the other two teams in Group A.
India had beaten Myanmar in the first match of their qualifying campaign, besides defeating Cambodia and Nepal in international friendlies this year. But, Kyrgyz Republic are expected to provide the strongest test to the Indian side. The Central Asian side have come into the match after defeating Macau 1-0 at home.
Both nations have locked horns on three occasions. India have won twice - in Nehru Cup 2007 and 2009 – but Kyrgyz Republic won the last contest in the 2010 AFC Challenge Cup.
Constantine may cherish some happy memories playing at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium as his team had beaten Guam 1-0 in the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers, but Kyrgyz Republic could be an acid test for him and his players.
Udanta Singh, who has been a revelation for the Indian side, will be missing due to an injury, as also striker C K Vineeth, who has been a star performer for Bengaluru FC in the domestic season.
Constantine may also be worried about playmaker Eugenson Lyngdoh as he has not had the best of run for BFC this season.
Star striker Sunil Chhetri is certain to return after being rested against Nepal in Mumbai. Jeje Lalpekhlua, who scored against Nepal, would look to continue his good form.
The inexperienced Indian defence is beginning to look good and Sandesh Jhingan and Anas Edathodika will hope to keep the Kyrgyz Republic strikers at bay.
Kyrgyz Republic, on the other hand, will bank on their strikers Mirlan Murzaev and Vitaly Lux. Murzaev is good at aerial play and is an attacking player. Captain Azamat Baymatov and Tamirlan Kozubaev will man the central defence.
"Kyrgyz Republic are an experienced side. They have quality and they have a great experience. As I heard, a lot of players ply their trade in Europe, which is a great sign of their calibre. I expect a very good fight from them. At the end of the day, it's going to be a tough challenge for us, " Constantine said at the pre-match press conference.
Asked about India's higher ranking than their opponents, he said, "Ranking comes for a particular reason. But, on the given day, you have to perform on the field. 32 above or below in the FIFA Ranking doesn't decide the result of a football match. Your hard work counts on the pitch."
Chhetri echoed his coach's sentiments and said, "We have a huge task tomorrow. We know they are a strong side but we are here to give everything we have to win the tie.
"We are churning out results, we are proud to take the results. But, we can't afford to be complacent at this moment. One moment of he slip-up and everything will be ruined."
Kyrgyz Republic coach Alexander Krestinin sounded confident: "We're here to get a win. We won't be satisfied with a draw. We are the favourites in the group.
"We are ready. We know that India will be a tough nut to crack at their home. Their defence is very strong. But we're well prepared to beat them.
"India are playing smart football recently. Getting good results always gives you confidence. It's the 21st century and everyone has the information about their opponents. We are well prepared for them and hope there will be a good fight tomorrow (Tuesday)."