Iran tie a mountain to climb for India

Bengaluru, Sep 7 (IANS) After successive defeats against Oman and Guam, India will face an acid test in their FIFA World Cup Group D qualification campaign when they meet Asia’s strongest team Iran at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium here on Tuesday.

Placed 40th in the FIFA rankings, Iran, who have qualified for four World Cup finals, including the 2014 edition in Brazil, will start out as overwhelming favourites against 155th ranked India who will be under pressure following the defeats to Oman and Guam, a tiny Pacific Ocean island, by identical 2-1 margins.

Despite the brave words emanating from the Indian camp ahead of Tuesday’s game, it remains to be seen whether Stephen Constantine’s boys — led by Sunil Chhetri — will walk the talk against a team that is expected to qualify for the 2018 finals in Russia.

On the other hand, Iran, after a tentative start that saw them draw 1-1 in Turkmenistan, were at full throttle against Guam in Tehran, winning 6-0.

The results have put Iran in the third spot in the group behind Oman and Guam (both of whom have six points), but with the best goal difference.

For all their obvious superiority, Iran coach Carlos Queroz refused to attach much significance to the FIFA rankings or the past results between the two countries which has the visitors winning seven of the 10 games as against two by India.

“I have great respect for India as opponents. And I don’t see the FIFA rankings as a parameter to judge. It is 11 versus 11 on the field tomorrow. Nothing less, nothing more!

“We are playing against a difficult opponent. We need three points and so do India. It’ll be tough match for both the teams. Our opponents (India) have families, friends and fans which is the same like us. They also want to win and so do we,” the former Real Madrid manager said at a pre-match media conference here on Monday.

“Playing away in a World Cup qualifier fixture is always difficult. There are numerous challenges and difficulties. But I expect a fighting attitude from my lads,” he added.

Iran captain Andranik Teymourian, who was also present at the media interaction, pointed out that India have developed as a team and have everything to play for on Tuesday.

“I have a great amount of respect for India. Indian football is on a gradual rise and it will be a good match. We are playing against a team which has nothing to lose tomorrow. I hope may the best team win.”

Constantine, who of late has been rather vocal in his criticism of the All India Football Federation’s (AIFF) functioning vis-A-vis the Indian team’s preparations, has been trying out various players in a bid to arrive at the most effective combination.

Since he took charge as the national coach earlier this year, Constantine has fielded 15 debutants in four matches, but the results have been far from productive.

Chhetri dubbed Tuesday’s game as one of the “biggest matches” for him and felt that it would be a difficult game for India.

“This is the toughest game of my career. In the last 10 years, this is my second opportunity to play Iran. It is that opportunity that the boys should take. This is an opportunity to show how much we have improved. We are relishing it.

“We all know who we are playing tomorrow. Iran are 40th in the World and the best team in Asia. The most important thing is to understand what we have trained and how we have trained.

“It’s always difficult to play exactly the way you want when you play such high ranked team. We need to be fit and do our best,” said Chhetri.

Constantine said,”Iran are one of the best sides in Asia. They are where they are because of the things they have done in the past and are doing it even presently.

“There is a great deal of respect for Iran, but don’t mistake that for fear. It’s 11 vs 11 on the field. If we work hard, there is a chance that we can take something from this game and I believe we can.”

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