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Acid test for India
India's lingering hope of making into the knockout stages of the World Cup will solely rely on them getting a victory against a much-fancied Ghana side here on Thursday. Even that might not be enough as the hosts also need other results in the group to go their way to have any chance of qualifying for round-of-16 as one of the four best third-placed teams from their respective groups.
The spirited performance against Colombia in the previous match at the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium would have definitely given a lot of hope for the Blue Cubs going into the final group match.
Despite a 1-2 defeat against the South American side, India showed lot of character and matched their superior opponent neck-to-neck for most of the game.
Infact the Luis Norton de Matos' side had quite a few chances to score before the eventual equaliser arrived in the 82nd minute.
After Abhijit Sarkar's shot from close range was saved by the keeper early in the first half, KP Rahul's left-footed strike hit the post in the dying minutes of the match.
Despite Colombia taking the lead, India still maintained their organisation and came close to scoring twice — KP Rahul missed target with a close range header and Nongdamba Naorem missed a glorious chance from inside the box after a nice run and layoff by Aniket Jadhav.
Eventually the equaliser came through Jeakson Singh from a Sanjeev Stalin corner. It was India's first ever goal in a FIFA tournament. However, a minute later Juan Penaloza scored for the second time in the match to break the hearts of the Indian players as well as the fans.
Nonetheless, the inspired outing in the last match has brought in a renewed sense of hope for the fans going into the final group match, which could very well be India's final match of the tournament.
But de Matos and his young troops will do everything they possibly can to prolong their stay in this competition.
After seeing his side execute his system to near-perfection in the previous match, the hosts are expected to retain their 4-4-1-1 formation.
As the Portuguese coach stressed throughout the build-up to the tournament, India did keep their two backlines — defence and midfield — close to each other, thereby not allowing much space for the opposition to work with.
Goalkeeper Deeraj Singh, who has been in inspirational form throughout this tournament, is set to start within the posts. Other outstanding performer for India in this competition — Anwar Ali — is expected to lead the backline alongside Namit Deshpande. Following his return from one-match suspension, Boris Singh impressed in the last game and he looks to retain the right-back position, while Sanjeev Stalin, who assisted Jeakson's goal from the corner spot, is set to be the left-back.
In midfield, Jeakson was the standout player against Colombia. He shielded the backline admirably by sitting in front of the defence and was equally impressive with his distribution. He is set to start alongside skipper Amarjit Singh in midfield. It will be interesting to see if Ninthoinganba Meetei and KP Rahul, who played in right and left-side of midfield respectively against Colombia, will start or anyone of Nongdamba and unused substitute Komal Thatal will be deployed in the flanks. Ninthoinganba did track the defence well and intercepted quite a lot of passes but didn't offer much in the attack. Only in the second half he surged forward on multiple occasions and put in few dangerous crosses.
In the lone striker position, Aniket Jadhav, who impressed after coming on as a substitute, might start in place of Rahim Ali, who was nearly anonymous in the game against Colombia.
India were solid at the back against the South American side in the last match, but they were not always able to quickly transform their defence into attack as the coach would have liked. So that will be an area for the coach to work on.
The forward line led by Eric Ayah — which also includes Emmanuel Toku, Sadiq Ibrahim, and Mohammed Aminu — has lot of pace on the break and will be a humungous challenge for any team to deal with. Two-time former champions Ghana are also the most physical side in the group, so it will be another massive task for India to cope with on Thursday.
India: Dheeraj Singh, Prabhsukhan Gill, Sunny Dhaliwal, Boris Singh, Jitendra Singh, Anwar Ali, Sanjeev Stalin, Hendry Antonay, Namit Deshpande, Suresh Singh, Ninthoinganba Meetei, Amarjit Singh Kiyam, Abhijit Sarkar, Komal Thatal, Lalengmawia, Jeakson Singh, Nongdamba Naorem, Rahul Kannoly Praveen, Md. Shahjahan, Rahim Ali, Aniket Jadhav.
Ghana: Ibrahim Danlad, Michael Acquaye, Kwame Aziz, Najeeb Yakubu, Gideon Mensah, Bismark Terry Owusu, Edmund Arko-Mensah, Abdul Razak Yusif, Gideon Acquah, Rashid Alhassan, John Out, Isaac Gyamfi, Gabriel Leveh, Ibrahim Sulley, Mohammed Kudus, Emmanuel Toku, Mohammed Iddriss, Eric Ayiah, Richard Danso, Mohammed Aminu, Ibrahim Sadiq.
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