KOLKATA: Bangladesh assistant coach Stuart Watkiss feels the absence of star India defender Sandesh Jhingan for their Group E Asian Qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup is slightly advantageous for them.
Jhingan has been ruled out ahead of the Bangladesh game on October 15 with a knee injury during India's friendly match against Indian NorthEast United (NEUFC) at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Guwahati a few days back.
Full back Rahul Bheke was named in the squad but he remains doubtful after picking up an injury. He was not played in the preparatory game against NorthEast United where almost all other squad players got some minutes.
"I mean, obviously the two defenders are very good players. Sandesh is excellent, not only defending but he's a big threat from set pieces," Watkiss told reporters after the team's first practice session at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan here.
"The coach (Igor Stimac) has many good players to fall back on. Other people to call up into the team. And we know the 11 players that start the game for India will be very strong. So, yeah, maybe a little advantage to us that those two central defenders are not playing. But we still expect to be facing really, really strong Indian team," said the 53-year-old.
Bangladesh took on Asian champions Qatar at home on October 10 and lost 0-2 despite putting on a spirited show. It was Bangladesh's second defeat, having lost 1-0 to Afghanistan in their group opener. India, meanwhile played out a famous goalless draw against Qatar on September 10.
Both sides are yet to win a game.
"We performed very well against Qatar and deserved something out of the game. I know India got a great point away in Qatar. But I think if you looked at the stats for our game, I would say we created more chances than Qatar in the game and possibly had the best chances of the game as well," Watkiss said.
"It's a great challenge and it's a challenge that we're looking forward to. We think we can give India a really good and competitive game. What I saw against Qatar the way we performed against Qatar, there's no reason if we can get to those levels again, then it should be a terrific game for everybody to come and watch," he said.
Asked what is keeping the visitors on their toes, the former Hull City development coach said the challenge is to keep India's record goalscorer Sunil Chhetri in check.
"Well, obviously, when you talk about most dangerous player, everyone will say Sunil, because of the amount of goals he has scored. I saw him first hand when at Bengaluru. He's a super player, with a super goalscoring record. But that's a challenge for us. That's a challenge for our team," said Watkiss who has worked with Indian club Bharat FC, which is now defunct.
"Well, we will obviously have plans in action to try and keep Sunil very quiet," he added.
Asked if Chhetri has any loopholes which they can look to exploit, the coach said: "Well, he hasn't had many deficiencies of late, he seems to have gone from strength to strength from my time in India.
"You know, we respect him. We respect all the Indian players, we respect the Indian culture and stuff. But that's it, we won't give them too much respect."
Bangladesh have eight U-23 players in their squad besides the experienced Mamunul Islam, who was signed by ATK on loan in 2014 but did not play a game. Their skipper Jamal Bhuyan is also experienced but overall it is a side which is still in transition.
"Our defensive shape is good. We are good on the counter. There are young players who can spring a surprise. We have been let down by our finishing a bit. We need to work on that," said 30-year-old Mamunul.
On Jhingan's absence, he said: "The one who will play in place of him will give his best."
Mamunul, who is a midfielder, also hinted that he might call it a day after the reverse fixture in Dhaka.
"I have played 13 years for national team. I will talk to the team management and might call it a day when India take on Bangladesh at our home," he concluded.