India take on Thailand in their AFC Asian Cup opener on Sunday night knowing a win would put them in an advantageous position to finish behind heavyweights and group favourites UAE.
Both Thailand and India have struggled for consistency in recent fixtures, making this fixture almost impossible to call. The Men in Blue are the second best-ranked team in their group, which features UAE (79), Thailand (118), and Bahrain (113).
Sadly, rankings don't count for anything when it comes to major cup competitions and all the other teams have much better experience in recent times of playing in tournament situations.
Here are three things to look forward to as the Blue Tigers take on the War Elephants in the AFC Asian Cup.
3. India's Solid Defence
Indian players haven't been at their best for their respective football clubs, but as a unit, they have been quite resolute over the last year.
The Blue Tigers have not conceded more than two goals in any of the matches they have played since March 2017, proving just how disciplined they have been. Gurpreet Singh Sandhu has been instrumental in this and he will need to be at the top of his game.
Thailand possess some good attacking players in the form of Chanathip Songkrasin and Teerasil Dangda and so, the Indian defenders will have their task cut out.
Pritam Kotal, in particular, will have to be on his toes to help keep out the attacking left-back Theerathon Bunmathan as well as the probing Chanathip, who likes to attack from the left.
2. Both Teams Have a Poor Record at the Asian Cup
Thailand have won only one of their 20 games at the Asian Cup, losing 11. In their last five appearances, the Thais were knocked out in the first round itself and would have to fight tooth and nail to avoid a similar fate, this time around.
Their defence has been their weakest link in the tournament, keeping only two clean sheets in their 20 games at the Asian Cup.
India on the other hand, have qualified for only four editions, with their best performance coming in 1964, when they finished second out of four teams. They failed to win a game in the other two editions in 1984 and 2011, finishing bottom of their group on both occasions.
1. India Must Capitalise on Counter-attacks
Despite having a superior ranking, India will have to tread carefully against the War Elephants. The South East Asians have three of their top players playing in Japan's top-tier, the J1 League.
Though the Thai team plays a more defensive style of football currently, their best players are very good going forward. Captain Teerasil Dangda features regularly for Sanfrecce Hiroshima while left-back Theerathon Bunmathan and midfielder Chanathip Songkrasin are members of Vissel Kobe and Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo, respectively.
Thailand netted a lot of goals at the ASEAN Football Federation Championship and will look to keep the Indian defence on its toes. Their explosive attacking midfielder Chanathip could prove to be a handful for the Men in Blue, and defending deep might be the best option.
India will need to rely on their pace on the counter and use the likes of Udanta Singh and Anirudh Thapa to counter quickly and put Sunil Chhetri and Jeje in positions where they can be clinical and execute counter-attacks flawlessly.