| Vijayan is aiming for a grand finish to his career
Hyderabad: The Indian team is eyeing to maintain their unbeaten record and clinch their second international title in recent times when they take on Uzbekistan in the final of the football event at the Afro-Asian Games on Friday.
The Indian morale got a big boost on Thursday when they rallied to down higher-ranked Zimbabwe 5-3 in the semi-final. With their confidence high, India will surely start favourites at the Lal Bahadur Stadium. However, Uzbekistan too have put on creditable performance en route to the summit clash.
The home advantage will also be a positive factor in India’s favour as they set out to win the title — their second since last year’s LG Cup triumph in Vietnam.
India started the tournament on a positive note, defeating Rwanda, and have not looked back since then.
After topping group A with their second straight win over Malaysia, the Indians prevailed over Zimbabweans in the eventful semi-final on Thursday.
Rains, which caused damage to the field in the initial days of the tournament, have stayed away till this evening though the sky remained overcast throughout. The Indian team has combined well so far with star strikers I. M. Vijayan and Bhaichung Bhutia threatening the rival defence all the time. Vijayan has scored four goals while Bhaichung has netted two so far. Tomba Singh and Rennedy Singh have done exceptionally well on the flanks, creating several openings. Vijayan is also aiming for a grand finish to his international career.
The midfield has been strengthened with Jo Paul Ancheri coming into the starting XI for the first time on Thursday. He came on as a substitute during the second half of the league matches because he was nursing an injury suffered in the preparatory tournament in Thailand.
Mahesh Gawli, Satish Bharti, M. Suresh have also done well in defence, particularly when the marauding Zimbabweans went into attack in the second half on Thursday. Sangram Mukherjee, under the bar, has also put up a good performance.
The only worrying factor in the Indian camp is Suresh’s leg injury. He looks a doubtful starter for the summit clash.
Uzbekistan managed to reach the finals through a golden goal against Rwanda after praise-worthy wins over Burkina Faso and Iran and a draw against Zimbabwe in their league matches. However, with three of their key players, including Marat who scored in their first win against Iran, having returned to play in Asia Cup qualifiers their strength has further weakened.