India's first international against Palestine here on Wednesday would also be their only game since losing 0-2 away to Singapore last October. In between, the friendly against Yemen scheduled in November in Guwahati fell through reportedly because the visiting team couldn't arrange for tickets.
And the challenge for India footballers is to make the transition from the I-League to a higher intensity against a higher-ranked team in almost no time.
Make the transition
"It's all about the tempo and the intensity of play. You just cannot compare an international friendly with a club match. The transition from club football to an international friendly, that too within two days is very challenging," said India skipper Sunil Chettri, himself seriously short of match practice at Sporting Lisbon B.
Against Singapore, India were found wanting in this aspect especially when it came to transition attack to defence.
India coach Wim Koevermans, a regular at I-League games across India, has named a number of new players and in Sandeep Nandy a 38-year-old goalkeeper making a comeback to the national squad after three seasons.
Lalkamal Bhowmick, Arata Izumi, Shouvik Ghosh, CK Vineet and Gurjinder Kumar too are new to Koevermans who joined last year and after five weeks of preparations won the Nehru Cup, his first assignment. The coach asked them to sing the national anthem before training on Tuesday. Each team is allowed six substitutions and it will have to be seen whether Koevermans gives these new players a run out under lights at the Nehru stadium here. If Arata plays, he would be the first naturalised Indian in the senior national team.
With less than a month left for the AFC Cup qualifiers, in Yangon from March 2-6, this match is important for Koevermans to not just try and improve India's current Fifa ranking of 166 (Palestine are 152) but also help him decide on the shortlist for the preparatory camp in Pune later this month.