Indian football team will face their most challenging test in the SAFF Championship when they face formidable Kuwait in their last league match here on Tuesday.
Both India and Kuwait, with six points from two wins, have entered the semifinals. The result of Tuesday`s match at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium will decide the Group A winner.
Pakistan and Nepal will face each other in the other match of the day, which has been rendered inconsequential as both the sides have already been eliminated from the tournament after losing their two earlier matches.
Pakistan lost to both India and Kuwait 4-0, while Nepal suffered a 3-1 defeat by Kuwait and 2-0 defeat by India.
India had brushed aside Pakistan 4-0 but had to work hard in their 2-0 win over Nepal.
The Indian defence has been in good form having managed a clean sheet for a record eight successive matches.
However, the midfield and frontline will have to perform a notch higher against a strong side like Kuwait.
India had struggled for more than an hour to penetrate Nepal defence, and Kuwait could pose even taller hurdles with a much more organised and experienced defence.
India`s primary weapon for finding goals still remains the talismanic captain Sunil Chhetri, who struck a hat-trick against Pakistan and then opened the scoring against Nepal.
It was just an understatement when Sahal Abdul Samad said other players, including himself, need to find the target more often than not to take the burden off Chhetri.
It is imperative for India to find multiple goal-scorers ahead of playing against fancied opponents as they will hardly give any wriggle room for Chhetri.
“Every aspect (of the game) has room for improvement. It`s a possession game, keep the ball as much as we can and score the goals. We have a fantastic player who scores goals for us,” Sahal had said.
“The coach asked us to change that, and we need to start scoring. Not just Sunil (Chhetri) bhai.”
On the other hand, Kuwait, who enjoy a 2-1 head-to-head record against India, have so far dished out a very disciplined game in the tournament. They were authoritative while scripting 3-1 and 4-0 victories over Nepal and Pakistan respectively.
They would want to continue in the same vein against India, despite taking time to acclimatise with the conditions here. It will also put them in a good frame of mind ahead of the semifinals.
“We sometimes play well, but our ball possession can get better. Before coming here, we played difficult matches with African teams,” said Kuwait head coach Rui Bento.
“It is very difficult to play in this weather, because the humidity is very high. But I have to congratulate our players for the previous two matches.”
This is the first time India are facing Kuwait since an international friendly in November 2010. The two teams have undergone layers of transformation in the interim, and they would not want to settle for anything less than a win.
Pakistan vs Nepal, 3.30 PM
India vs Kuwait, 7.30 PM.
(With PTI inputs)