The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bhutia’s boys believe they can beat China

Busan: The two initial obstacles have been cleared in style. Now comes the litmus test for Stephen Constantine’s spirited team. Standing between India and their Asian Games quarter final dream are the mighty Chinese, one of the continental powerhouses.

The Chinese didn’t quite set the World Cup on fire, being comprehensively beaten by Brazil, Turkey and Costa Rica in the group stage and suffering badly in comparison to Korea and Japan’s dazzling performances. This is a stage where the Chinese are desperate to make amends and show they can match their fellow-Asians.

Loaded with three World Cuppers — goalkeeper An Qi, defender Du Wei and striker Qu Bo — China got past Turkmenistan and Bangladesh comfortably without looking awesome. The Indians have taken note of their style and are definitely not shaken up.

The coach is reminding his wards of the Jamaican experience. Bhaichung Bhutia’s team lost the first match against the 1998 World Cup nation and drew the second in England. “We could have actually won that game… If we could do it against Jamaica, why not China'” argues Constantine.

Sukhwinder Singh, who watched China’s match versus Bangladesh, went a step further in a bid to win the mental battle for his players. “The World Cup showed there is no big team and small team. Anyone can win on a given day,” said the technical director.

Inferior in both height and strength, the Indians will seek to avoid aerial balls and keep it on the ground as much as possible. “We’ll see how it goes in the early minutes and be flexible with strategy,” said Constantine.

A draw will be priority No. 1. That will take India’s points tally to seven and seal a quarter final berth as one of the two best second-placed teams. A narrow defeat may still be enough if Thailand hold UAE in group B and Bahrain beat Palestine by a margin of less than five goals in group D.

The Bahrain-Palestine clash is not before Saturday and there’s a feeling in the Indian camp that there could be some foul play as the equation will be known by then. In other words, Bahrain would know exactly what they need to do to pip India.

All such uncertainties can be avoided if India earn a point tomorrow. The focus will obviously be on defence and that’s why Constantine is keen on fielding the experienced Rennedy Singh who is recovering from a hamstring niggle.

“It’s a big match for us… it’s actually a matter of life and death,” said Dipak Mondal, who will return after a one-game suspension.

Goalkeeper Rajat Ghosh Dastidar is fully aware of his role. “It’s a test of the defenders and goalkeeper in such matches. Not often do we get a chance to impress like this. I am keyed up for the challenge,” he said with a touch of confidence that is running through the entire team.

Going by the record book, China are overwhelming favourites to put it across India. But, as skipper Bhaichung Bhutia pointed out, this team doesn’t care about the past. “They may have got three World Cuppers but we can play football also… we are not afraid of anyone.”

That sums up the mood in the Indian camp. You can’t put anything beyond them.

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