Virtually out of contention for a final round berth, India would look to register their first win in their 2018 football World Cup qualifying campaign when they take on Guam in a group match in Bengaluru on Thursday.
India are yet to open their account as they have lost all their previous five matches in Group D while Guam have seven points from five games.
The Stephen Constantine-coach side now have the best chance to register a win in their campaign. The small Pacific island nation had beaten India at home (1-2) in June.
As far as qualification for 2018 FIFA World Cup is concerned, India’s hopes are virtually over with Asian giants Iran on top of the group with 11 points, while Oman is second on eight points. The group winners and four best runners-up teams will advance to the final round of qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
After Guam, India will play two more group matches — one against Turkmenistan at home and the other away against Iran — and they stand no chance to make it to the final round.
In that sense, Thursday’s match has virtually no significance as far as 2018 FIFA World Cup qualification is concerned but it will be crucial for the qualification of AFC Asian Cup 2019.
The next best 24 teams from the preliminary stage of the qualifiers will compete in a separate competition for the remaining 12 slots for the 24-team 2019 Asian Cup.
A win on Thursday will keep them in the hunt while a loss will make the task more difficult for the Constantine-coached team to even qualify for the 2019 Asian Cup.
Understandably, Constantine sought to be guarded in his comments on the eve of the match.
“Guam are the favourites. They have seven points. They are above us in the FIFA Rankings. So they are the favourites. But at the end of the day it’s what you do on the pitch which determines the result,” he said.
When India lost to Guam, Constantine’s side were higher in FIFA rankings but now they are below the visiting team.
“In any case, we did not play particularly well (against Guam) which has been the case in all of our away games so far. Four games later, we are a better side that we were then. I have respect for Guam and their coach as they do,” said Constantine.
Meanwhile, the Garden City has been experiencing rain in the last three days. Drenched in the rain, the Indian team has had two practice sessions so far — a recovery session on Monday and another session last morning.
Guam arrived here a couple of days earlier than India assembled. They have, in fact, have had more practice sessions than the home side, which assembled on November 8.