The old Temple city of Bagan will be reverberating with prayer. By historical and statistical accounts, thissite in northern Myanmar boasts the highest density of Pagodas andBuddhist temple structures in the world - some 2200 structures spread over just 67 Kilometres. On Wednesday, 28th March, they'll have hymns spring from wall to wall, temple to temple in unison - that for the Myanmar national football team.
This is because, at 5 PM local time, The White Angelswill take to the football pitch in an Asian Football Confederation's (AFC) Asian Cup 2019 Qualification Group A bout against their neighbours India. Make no mistake, Bagan is closer to the Indian border than it is to Yangon - the epicentre of the first group tie between these two teams. So the prayers from the Indian side for the Indian national team, particularly the seven sisters, will be equally felt in force.
The Blue Tigers arrive into this tie on the back of a tight warm-up win over Cambodia in Phnom Penh. The performance raised a few more questions it would've answered and by some accounts, it would've left Stephen Constantine - the coach of the national team - in a quandary over team selection for this all important qualification round opener.
A familiar 4-1-3-2 system will be the order of the day for the British-Cypriot coach with a few changes inpersonnel. Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, the captain of the side in the last tie, will keep his position between the sticks with an assured display at the back which won him deserved plaudits.
In defence, Sandesh Jhingan should partner Anas Edathodikawhile Arnab Mondal, who was replaced bythe former in the last tie, will be on the bench. Pritam Kotal will start as the right-back, while Narayan Das should feature at left-back.
Rowllin Borges will be the central screener, better known as the Liberoposition,keeping the defence impregnable. Ahead of him, Eugeneson Lyngdoh will be India's creator-in-chief. He will be flanked by Sunil Chhetri on the left and Jackichand Singh on the right.Jackichand had a flier of a match against the Kouprey Blues, where he came off the bench in the first half and played a part in two goals. The gaffer will be hoping his team can take advantage of the 25-year-old's pace down the right and make inroads into the Burmese rearguard.
Jeje Lalpekhlua and Robin Singh will be the two strikers for the Indians. More than an ideal combination, the duo are pitted together with the necessityof firing themselves into form. India's Player of The Year, despite hitting the back of the net in the last tie, has been out of form for much of the I-League campaign and he needs to fire from the get-go. East Bengal's number nine too has scored the identical number of goals as Lalpekhlua and he will be under pressure to add to his tally as well.
"I do think the home games are must wins, so you have 9 points available there. We have to win those games. So 9 points will take you to the final in the United Arab Emirates (UAE)," boldly predicted the Indian team's coach, on the eve of the tie.
Myanmar head into this tie after a 1-3 win over Indonesia, a team ranked higher than them on the FIFA rankings. The Asian team have dropped some 30 places on the ladder in the last month alone, but they are expected to make strong gains in the coming period.
Gerd Zeise took over the senior squad following his success with the U-20 side, replacing Raddy Avramovic last October. The German has worked well with talented youngsters like Nanda Kyaw, Aung Thu and Than Paingdraftingthem into his squad to play alongside the experiencedKyi Lin, Yan Aung Kyaw and Kyaw Ko Ko.
VOTE: Can India beat Myanmar?
Like other mainland-based South East Asian teams, speed and high determination are the main characteristics ofMyanmarwhich will be boosted by acombination of skilful players. However, the squad usually lacksdiscipline in the defensive lineup. He will be expected to field the same eleven but the likes of Thet Naingand Aung Than Win could be given a run out in place of Maung Maung Lwin and Yan Naing Oo.
Aung Thu should start as the lone striker with Aung Kyaw taking positionin central midfield beside Oo. Overall Zeise will prefer a 4-2-3-1 formation.
India have a poor record against their Burmese counterparts. With just four wins in 17 attempts - as against 10 forthe Irrawaddy river bearing nation, time is right on India's side to start overturning the deficit. Form too will favour the away side with a 100 percent record in their previous five game games boosting them, while Myanmar has just three wins in the corresponding number of games.
The last time India faced Myanmar in 2013, they lost the tie - an AFC Asian Cup match - 1-0.
With a script that has the potential to thrill taking shape on the mouth of the Bay of Bengal, it's enticing to watch the game unfold live, with inferences drawn as to whose prayers in Bagan are actually heeded.