: After the spirited show against formidable Australia, India would hope to make an impact in the Asian Cup football tournament when it takes on Bahrain in its second group match here on Friday.
Following a troubled build-up to the tournament which saw the team suffer heavy defeats in international friendlies, the 0-4 result against the World No. 26 was comparatively better then what many had expected.
Bahrain is the least fancied among India's opponents in Group C, though it is ranked seventh in Asia and 93rd in the FIFA chart, and missed out on the 2010 World Cup in the play-offs.
The match against Bahrain at the Al Saad Stadium on Friday would be a great opportunity for India to make its presence felt in the continental showpiece event, despite the absence of talismanic skipper Baichung Bhutia, who is recovering from a calf muscle injury.
Bhutia, who consulted the Australian team doctor on his injury a few days ago, is expected to play a part in India's third group match against South Korea on January 18.
Changes in the offing
Coach Bob Houghton will make some changes from the team that played against Australia in the opening match, to provide them rest for the match against South Korea.
“We can't play three matches with the same set of boys; they will get tired as you are running a lot. So there will be some changes.
“It will be a tough match. Bahrain are a strong team, having missed the World Cup in play-off, though they were dominated by South Korea in their opening match,” Houghton said.
Head-to-head, Bahrain holds the edge — winning three of the four encounters.
While the first meeting between the two sides, in 1982, ended in a stalemate, the West Asian nation thrashed India 3-0 in a World Cup qualifier in June 1993, their last meeting.
In between, Bahrain registered two more wins — 3-0 in 1986 and 2-1 in 1993. This will, however, be their first meeting in the Asian Cup.
Left-back Deepak Mondal, who struggled to stop the crosses from the right by Brett Emerton in the first match, is likely to be replaced by Syed Rahim Nabi who operated on the wings against Australia.
Senior player Renedy Singh, who came in the second half against Australia and who delivered a couple of good crosses, is expected to take Nabi's left-wing position.
Houghton is likely to continue with Sunil Chhetri and Mohammed Rafi as strikers in the starting line-up, with the lanky Abhishek Yadav coming in later. Gouramangi Singh, Anwar and Surkumar Singh are expected to start at the back, while Climax Lawrence and N.P. Pradeep will continue to man the midfield. Steven Dias, who did not have a very good game against Australia, is also expected to start on the right. — PTI