India Vs Uzbekistan, AFC Asian Cup 2023, Preview: Blue Tigers Eye First Win

Five days after their loss against Australia, the Blue Tigers will face Uzbekistan in their second group game. Here's looking ahead to India vs Uzbekistan, AFC Asian Cup 2023, group stage encounter

Photo: AP/Aijaz Rahi
AFC Asian Cup 2023: India Vs Australia Photo: AP/Aijaz Rahi

After a gritty performance against formidable Australia, India face Uzbekistan in their second group match of the Asian Cup here on Thursday, aiming to assert themselves better than what they managed in the opening game. (Football News)

India lost to title-contenders Australia 0-2 in the opening match on January 13 after denying the Socceroos any success for 50 minutes. The Australians were at their attacking best but Sunil Chhetri's men managed to avoid a bigger margin of defeat.

The defensive compactness, especially in the first half, would be something that the Indians would like to continue against the Uzbeks, who are a bit disappointed after playing out a 0-0 draw against Syria in their opening match.

Chhetri made the point that the Central Asian side, ranked 68th in the world as against 102nd of India, would not be as menacing as the Australians, and his thoughts could be a pointer to his side's game-plan.

"Uzbekistan are not Australia, but they're a good side nonetheless. So, it will be a big challenge in this game too," said Chhetri who missed a scoring chance against Australia.

Chhetri had earlier conceded that Uzbekistan as well as Australia are of World Cup level but he and his team will not be too scared of the former, popularly known as 'White Wolves', after their fighting show against the Socceroos.

For sure, India will not sit back too deep against Uzbekistan. Instead, they would look to play their own game and press for counter-attacks with quick transition. The likes of Chhetri, Manvir Singh and other forwards could be looking for chances which were almost non-existent against the Australians.

Sandesh Jhingan will, as usual, be the key man in the deep defence. A true warrior on the pitch, Jhingan led a fine Indian defensive effort against Australia.

He soldiered on with a bandaged forehead and stitched-up cuts above each eyebrow.

Uzbekistan are a side who have beaten the likes of China, Oman and Bolivia while drawing with Iran and Mexico in the past one year. They are currently at ninth spot among the Asian countries in the FIFA rankings.

Uzbekistan dominated against Syria but failed to find the target from around a dozen shots. Syria also got enough shots and that will encourage the Indians to try and score.

Uzbek captain Jaloliddin Masharipov, who plies his trade in the Greek Super League, was Uzbekistan's most impressive player in the match against Syria and he could be the man to watch for the Indians.

Historically, India and Uzbekistan have played eight times against each other with the Blue Tigers having won just one. Uzbekistan were the victors five times while two matches had ended in draws.

The last match between the two sides had also gone in favour of the Uzbeks who won 2-1 in the 2001 Merdeka Cup in Kuala Lumpur.

The 'White Wolves' have not lost to India in their six earlier meetings. They erased a 2-1 deficit with two goals in the final 13 minutes to win their only Asian Cup qualification round match 3-2 in 1999.

This will be Uzbekistan's eighth appearance in the AFC Asian Cup and they reached the knock-out round in each of the previous five editions (2004-2019), and the semifinals in 2011.

They lost to Australia in the round of 16 in the last edition in 2019.

A win against the Uzbeks may be far-fetched but taking a point from the match is a possibility, just like the Syrians have done, and that could be valuable for India as far as knock-out qualification is concerned.