Sunday, November 14, 2010

Asian Games Football: India now face mighty Japan

The India Under-23 national team qualified for the Round of 16 at the 2010 Asian Games, their first passage to the knockout stages of the Asian Games since the 1982 Asian Games at home in New Delhi. And now our boys will face the mighty Japan, who topped Group A while we finished third in Group D.
For coach Sukhvinder Singh and his boys it is a big achievement that our Under-23 national team could qualify for the kncokout stages of the Asian Games after so many years. And to enhance the value of this achievement even more, coach Sukhvinder is missing a number of players from Bob Houghton’s pool of 30 players, who were a crucial part of the team in their SAFF Cup triumph last December like goalkeeper Arindam Bhattcharya and central midfielder Baldeep Singh, leading the team from the front.
India qualified as one of the four best teams in third position in the six groups. Actually India is the best out of those four teams, who all have three points with one win and two losses; but India had a goal difference of +/- 0, Uzbekistan (-1), Vietnam (-3) and Malaysia (-4) wree worse.
Now it is Japan and the Japanese are always a candidate for titles at Asian level competition, but interestingly they have never ever won the Asian Games football title. Their best finish was a runners-up spot in 2002 besides winning the bronze medal in 1951 and 1966. So on paper India is actually the more successful nation in Asian Games football with titles in 1951 and 1962 plus the bronze in 1970, which was won with a 1-0 win against the Japanese. Surely those wins were many decades back and things have changes in Asian football.
Japan qualified for the Round of 16 as the group winners from Group A with an all win record, not even conceding a single goal in the process. They started with a fluent 3-0 win against the hosts China, then a 2-0 win against Malaysia and finished their group engagements with a 3-0 win against Kyrgyzstan.
Surely the Japanese are the big favourites to move on, but in football you never know as upsets are possible. If no injury problems crop up then Sukhvinder is likely to play the same eleven as in the first couple of matches with suspended Robert Lalthalma coming back into the starting line-up, while Gurpreet Singh Sandhu stays in goal.
The two sides will meet on Tuesday, November 16 at 15.30 local time at the Huangpu Sports Center in Guangzhou to decide who makes it to the quarterfinals. The winner of this game would then have to face either Thailand or Turkmenistan for a place in the semifinals.
Likely India Under-23 Line-up
Gurpreet Singh Sandhu; Denzil Franco, Rowilson Rodrigues, Dharmaraj Ravanan, Robert Lalthalma; Joachim Abranches, Manish Maithani, Jewel Sheikh Raja, Jibon Singh; Jeje Lalpekhlua, Balwant Singh

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