India play Thailand in Bangkok on Saturday, the first in a string of friendlies to prepare for next January's Asian Cup finals where they have qualified after 27 years. This will be India's first international since winning the Nehru Cup in August 2009.
Undone by an 89th minute goal against Iran, Thailand won't be among the elite 16 in the Asian Cup for the first time since 1988. They have a more immediate target of the Asian Games in November and to that end, coach Bryan Robson, 52, has, according to goal.com, assembled a squad comprising mostly U-23 players.
The match, at the Yamaha Stadium in Nonthaburi near Bangkok, kicks off at 6pm local time (4.30pm IST). Neither team trained at the match venue to prevent the ground from damage following a sudden spell of rain. By mutual agreement six substitutions will be allowed, said India manager Pradeep Choudhury.
With skipper Bhaichung Bhutia likely to skip this tie and the home leg at the Ambedkar Stadium in New Delhi on Wednesday, the armband could go to Climax Lawrence. Bhutia missed nearly a month of preparations in Portugal and Renedy Singh, his roommate in Bangkok, had led in the practice games against club sides. Renedy though is coming off a bout of viral fever and hence may not start.
The India squad of 30 trained for two months in Portugal where they won six out of 10 games. The manager said Baljit Sahni is recovering from a groin injury and Sameer Naik has a calf muscle problem and are unavailable. In Bhutia's absence, Sunil Chhetri, who scored four goals in three games in Portugal, is likely to start with Mohammed Rafi for whom this will be a first international match. " I am looking forward to tomorrow's match," Rafi said.
Syed Rahim Nabi has recovered from an ankle injury in Portugal but it is possible that either Mahesh Gawli or N.S. Manju will start on the left side of the four-man defence.
Led by defender Nataporn Phanrit Thailand, now ranked 104th and 34 places above India, beat Singapore 1-0 in a friendly last month. They lost 0-4 to South Africa in May this year.
Former midfielder Robson, a Manchester United legend and England captain, took charge in September 2009 on a four-year contract. He replaced another Peter Reid who left a $1.6 million contract to join Stoke City in the EPL.
According to the Football Association of Thailand website, the teams have met 21 times with India winning six and an equal number of draws. Thailand have won nine.