Billion-plus populations but laggards in a truly global sport — India and China will go head to head in a football friendly for the first time in 21 years today. Both countries have seen a surge, both in investment and following, in the last decade. Today’s match will be played in China’s Suzhou.
The Indian team is playing an international match in China for the first time, though their senior sides have faced each other 17 times in the past. China have played in India seven times, all of them in the invitational tournament Nehru Cup.
The match will be telecast live at 5 pm today. India will be led by star defender Sandesh Jhingan, coach Stephen Constantine revealed in the pre-match press conference in China’s Suzhou.
“I think he is going to be one of the leaders for India going forward. Keeping the magnitude of the game in mind, I believe he deserves to lead the team,” Mr Constantine said.
India will be led by star defender Sandesh Jhingan, coach Stephen Constantine said.
China is considered the firm favourite for today’s game, despite their poor recent form. However, the win-loss record against India is in their favour. India has not won a single match out of the 17, while China has won 12 on occasions. The rest of the matches were a draw. China will also have the home advantage in today’s game.
The senior teams of India and China last played in the 1997 Nehru Cup in Kochi which the ‘Red Dragons’ won 2-1.
Today’s match at Suzhou, around 100 km from Shanghai, has attracted a lot of interest among the football fans in the backdrop of the competition between the two Asian giants on several fronts.
India and China account for over a third of the world’s population. They are also the fastest growing global economies. But both countries, often called “sleeping giants”, have been disappointing in terms of football at the international stage.
This is more true for India as the country has not featured in a single FIFA World Cup while China has done so once — in 2002, when they exited from the group stages after losing all their three matches.
Despite being a lesser force on the global stage, China have been consistently among the top-10 in Asia and in the top-100 in the world. They are currently 76th in FIFA rankings and seventh in Asia.
China has played 11 times in the Asian Cup, the continent’s top competition and has finished runners-up twice and third as many times.
India, on the other hand, has played thrice in the Asian Cup (1964 runners-up; 1984 and 2011) and recently broke into the top 100 in the FIFA rankings after a long time. India is currently 97th in FIFA rankings and 15th in Asia.
Today’s match, being played by both sides in the FIFA international friendly window as part of preparations for the AFC Asian Cup in January next year, will test India’s progress in recent years.
When asked, Indian coach Stephen Constantine said, “We will go all out for a win. But if we lose, we will try to find out the positive aspects.”
Lead striker and regular skipper Sunil Chhetri, who will take the field as the country’s lead striker, wondered just why it took so long for the two countries to play each other.
“We should not afford them much space. At the same time, whenever we find a little room of opportunity, we have to construct the moves and counter them,” Sunil Chhetri said.
China have been in poor form recently, and have been struggling in the last few international matches it played. China faced a 0-1 loss to an inexperienced Qatar last month and then a 0-0 stalemate with Bahrain.