The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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India eye big win vs Turkmenistan

Busan: The Stephen Constantine era has taken root. Indian football is again dreaming big. The 14th Asian Games provides the first opportunity to check whether Bhaichung Bhutia’s team is, indeed, headed for greener pastures.

The start here has been encouraging, without being spectacular. Friday’s comfortable victory over Bangladesh would have been sweeter had the Indians converted more than three of the dozen-odd chances they created in the group C encounter.

Turkmenistan is up next, at the Yangsan Public Stadium on Monday afternoon. Just a victory will not do, a big one is needed as the fourth team in the group are mighty China.

Only the six group toppers are automatically ensured a berth in the quarter finals. The two best second-placed teams out of six will get the other slots.

Since beating China still seems to be in the realms of fantasy, Constantine’s boys would do well to pump in a handful against Turkmenistan.

Technical director Sukhwinder Singh was assigned the job to study the Turkmenistans during their opener against China Friday. And he didn’t see anything to be really alarmed of. “They are not as strong as Uzbekistan and can be beaten,” observed Sukhwinder. The comparison with Uzbekistan came up because India beat them in Delhi recently before going down in the second friendly.

Constantine has a problem, though. And it’s quite a major one. He has to find a replacement for Deepak Mondal who was sent off during stoppage time the other day.

Mondal has been a tower of strength at the heart of defence for the past few years and all coaches have found it impossible to look bey- ond him.

The man most likely to step into Mondal’s shoes is Satish Bharti, the Mohun Bagan stopper who is in sound form. Even though Bharti doesn’t have much experience at this level, skipper Bhaichung Bhutia has faith in his clubmate.

“He has been playing very well of late, including the two matches against Saunders SC. I think he will do a very good job and not make us feel Mondal’s absence. In any case, we have trained without Mondal before,” the Indian captain remarked at the sprawling Athletes’ Village shortly before leaving for practice.

The only time India met Turkmenistan, resulted in a 2-3 defeat, at the Bangkok Asian Games four years ago. But Bhaichung, one of the four survivors from that team, doesn’t want to talk of that match. “Indian football has changed a lot since that time. We are playing good, consistent football now. We’ll just go out, be aggressive and play our game rather than think of them,” said Bhaichung.

But there are some things the Indian captain wants his team to do differently on the morrow. “We have to keep possession, can’t afford to lose balls as easily as we did against Bangladesh,” Bhaichung quipped.

“The good thing was that we created plenty of scoring opportunities against Bangladesh. That’s a good sign and we have to continue doing that,” he added.

The coach didn’t disclose his starting XI, but there are unlikely to be any other changes than the forced one of Mondal. Constantine may be tempted to start with Alex Ambrose in place of Abhishek Yadav, but the fact that Ambrose is coming off an injury could again confine him to a substitute’s role.

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