Members of India’s national football team during a training session ahead of their encounter today with Bahrain. Image Credit: AFC Twitter

Sharjah: A sold-out stadium can hope for a mouth-watering clash between India and Bahrain as the two sides go all out for a win and enter the next round of competition in their last Group A match of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup at the Sharjah Stadium on Monday.

The Blue Tigers opened with a 4-1 thrashing against Thailand, but went down 0-2 against hosts the UAE in their second match. Bahrain felt they were denied full points after the hosts converted from the spot towards the end of the game. But in their second game, the Bahrainis dominated but failed to get past Thailand to lose by a solitary goal.

A win or a draw tonight will ensure a first-ever knockout stages entry for India, while a loss will see them banking on other sides to make the Round of 16 grade as one of four best-placed third teams. Coach Stephen Constantine was pragmatic of the task at hand. “I want to win the three points. We are not playing for a draw. In fact, we don’t know how to play for a draw,” Constantine told media at the prematch conference.

“There is no doubt that this will be difficult game, and we have prepared well. We have played so good in the last two games and the boys are looking forward to this one. Bahrain is a good team and they are well organised. We too are a quality side and I expect this to be a tough game where they [Bahrain] have the added pressure and we are prepared for that,” he added.

In the last six matches, India have suffered two losses — a 1-2 result against Jordan in a friendly on November 17 followed by the 0-2 loss to hosts the UAE last week. Before securing a shock 4-1 result against Thailand in their opener, the Blue Tigers had drawn goalless against Gulf champions Oman in their final friendly at the end of December.

India will dread a déjà vu moment from the 2011 Asian Cup — their last meeting with Bahrain, where the scoreline read 5-2 in favour of the Middle-Eastern side, with Sunil Chhetri and Gouramangi Singh finding the net for the Blue Tigers. “We are a well-organised and fit team and we have been fighting for the past four years to be here,” Constantine noted.

“I feel Bahrain was the better side against the UAE, and then they were unlucky to lose against Thailand despite dominating. Now they are in a corner and they will have to fight to get out of it. There is no doubt that this is going to be a tough match,” he added.

Now ranked 16 places below India, Bahrain have had a mini-revolution of sorts under Czech manager Miroslav Soukup, who took over the team in July 2016. In the Gulf Cup 12 months ago in Kuwait, they reached the semi-finals after ten long years.

“This tournament is a very short competition of three weeks. Everything needs to be positive. We need to have our lucky day. I don’t want to say we had bad luck in the first two games. Everyone saw that the penalty [against the UAE] is questionable, and in the second game [against Thailand] there was a handball off a free kick before the goal. I hope we can have some good luck tomorrow,” Soukup hoped.

“Of course, we have a lot of information on India and they have the same about us. We know their strengths and weaknesses after watching a few of their games. We know the history of their coach and their style of play. We are tactically ready with all this. But then, the game is not decided on a whiteboard but on the pitch. I hope my players remember this,” he added.