India face Hongkong in an international friendly in Pune tonight to kick-off a series of three friendlies in 10 days. The match is part of India's preparations for the 2011 AFC Asian Cup in Qatar in January next year. The match will kick-off at 18.00 IST at the Balewadi Sports Complex in Pune and the match will be shown live on Ten Action (formerly Zee Sports).
India coach Bob Houghton will have to field a new starting eleven with a number of players out due to injuries. The list includes captain Baichung Bhutia and Anwar, who both had picked-up injuries in the friendly against Namibia on September 15. Steven Dias still hasn't fully recovered from a rib injury, Samir Naik is also out as are N.P. Pradeep and Mohammed Rafi.
Bob will have to reorganise in all departments of his team except the goalkeepers position where Subrata Pal is set to start. In place of Anwar Arjuna Awardee Deepak Kumar Mondal is set to get a rare start in the heart of defence, while a recovered Syed Rahim Nabi could be back as left back. If Pradeep is out then Mehrajuddin Wadoo, who was impressive against Namibia, is likely to take his place besides stand-in captain Climax Lawrence. With Steven out Anthony Pereira will once more play in his usual right wing position while Dempo team mate Clifford Miranda is set to play on the left flank. It Rafi out Sunil Chhetri is set to get Abhishek Yadav as strike partner, who also had impressed against Namibia.
The two sides had last met in January 2009 in Hongkong in an international friendly which Hongkong had won 2-1. Last time around India had been lacking match practice, but this time it is the other way around as Bob told the-aiff.com website, "We have the advantage to be together more than our opponents. It has been three months now that the Indian team has been training together and we certainly hold the advantage."
One will have to see if India can utilise the home advantage. After the game tonight India then have two more friendlies in the coming 10 days before the squad get a break and are allowed to go home before the final Asian Cup camp. First India take on Vietnam on October 8 and then against Yemen on October 13. These matches will also be played in Pune.