Spain-Uruguay, Brazil-England, Argentina-Sweden, France-Germany, Netherlands-Italy. These are the top match-ups scheduled world wide on Wednesday.
Grouped among the lesser contests in the FIFA ranking international friendlies is the India-Palestine fixture at the Jawaharlal Nehru International Stadium here.
For once, India, struggling to build a decent team amidst plenty, and Palestine, searching for means of expression amidst ruins, find themselves on the same page as the football superpowers. There ends the similarity.
Given the makeup of the two teams, the pressure is greater on the hosts.
With the All India Football Federation (AIFA) having big plans, supported by FIFA, to make things happen in Indian football, including organising the 2017 FIFA under-20 world cup and bringing top teams and players, for either international friendlies or exhibition matches clubs, it is imperative that India produce fair results. At least against teams within a similar range of ranking as India’s.
And with the experts, including their 1988 European Championship-winning Dutch coach Wim Koevermans himself, maintaining that India are a far better side than their FIFA ranking of 166, it is only in AIFF’s favour that the Sunil Chhetri-led side wins against a second-string Palestine side in front of home fans. So much to attract fans to follow the national team’s fortunes en masse.
The 152-ranked West Asians, though, have come here with a young squad, with an average age of 23, and with just two of their overseas players – in captain Abdelatif Bahdari and Ashraf Nu’man – bringing in professional experience.
The two, from their positions at the extremes of the Palestinian formation, will have a job to do when they walk out under lights at the massive J N Stadium expected to brim with support for India. Strapping central defender Bahdari, who plays for Hajer SC in Saudi Arabia, will most definitely be in charge of keeping the tricky Chhetri, currently with Sporting Lisbon ‘B’ of Portugal, quiet. Tasked with finding a way through the Indian backline, led by the AIFF Player of the Year, Syed Rahim Nabi, will be Jordan-based forward Ashraf Nu’man, of Amman’s Al-Faisaly club. However, the midfield could be where the surprises lie.
India is most likely to give Japanese-born Arata Azumi his first ever international cap while the Palestinian side remains largely an unknown quantity.
While Indian have lost skillful right winger Anthony Pereira to a knee injury, the visitors are without their star winger Imad Zatara, currently with Atvidabergs FF in Sweden, who was initially slated to play but has stayed back.