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India take on Zimbabwe in football semis tomorrow

A confident India would be looking to keep their clean slate and enter the title round when they clash with youthful Zimbabwe.

football Updated: Oct 28, 2003 19:06 IST

A confident India would be looking to keep their clean slate and enter the title round when they clash with youthful Zimbabwe in the first semifinal of the football competition in the Afro-Asian Games at the Lal Bahadur stadium here on Wednesday.

In the other semifinal, Uzbekistan, who topped the group 'B', will fight it out with Group A runners-up Rwanda.

India, who topped the three-team Group A with emphatic wins over Rwanda and Malaysia, appear favourites as the team combined well in the league matches and should capitalise on the five days rest they had between their last league match and the semifinals.

With Ghana pulling out of the tournaments, the Group A was reduced to a three-team fixture and India played their last match against Malaysia on Friday last.

Though Zimbabwe is positioned 50 in the FIFA rankings, with just two of their national players in the side, the team has only been able to finish runners-up in group B with a 4-1 win against Burkina Faso and identical 1-1 draws with Uzbekistan and Iran.

India, the lone senior national side in the competition, faced few problems on their way to the semifinals. All the departments had done well so far. The front line, led by veteran striker I M Vijayan, Captain Bhaichung Bhutia and Tomba Singh has come good with solid backing from the midfield where Shanmugha Venkatesh and Renedy Singh have been impressive.

The other striker Asim Biswas, who scored in the first match against Rwanda, has so far not found a place in the first eleven and star midfielder Jo Paul Ancheri, who did not come later in second half in view of his leg injury he suffered in Thailand during the preparatory tour, has also been left out of the team.

Vijayan, who is hanging up his boots after the end of the tournament, has already proved his worth as he has had his share in India's both wins, scoring one goal each, prompting chief coach Stephen Constantine to have a dig at those critical of the veteran striker's inclusion in the side. The star striker would be looking to increase his tally.

The defence led by M Suresh, Satish Mharti and Mahesh Gawli has come good in the previous matches.

Zimabawean Coach Nelson has given full credit to the Indians by rating them strong. It will be a tough match. India are a strong side with players like Vijayan. They will also have the advantage of the long rest between the league phase and the knock-out stage, he said. Zimbabwe played their last league match yesterday.

First Published: Oct 28, 2003 19:06 IST