Hyderabad:With the team showing immense fighting spirit and an impressive 2-1 victory over formidable Turkmenistan in their last match to boot, India start as favourites against Myanmar in the semifinal of AFC Challenge Cup football tournament in Hyderabad on Thursday.
After two lackluster matches -- against Afghanistan and Tajikistan -- India topped Group A by sending Turkmenistan packing from the tournament and that victory has put India's title hopes on course.
The home team started on an unimpressive note and they had to wait till the injury time to beat minnows Afghanistan by a solitary goal and come back from behind to hold defending champions Tajikistan in the next match that too from their opponents' own goal.
But what has made coach Bob Houghton happy was the never-say-die attitude of his charges who fought till the end which the Englishman felt would be crucial to win the tournament and qualify for the 2011 Asian Cup.
"All the boys showed the fighting spirit till the end in all the group matches especially in the first two - against Afghanistan and Tajikistan. They are an honest bunch of boys who try very hard. They know the importance of this tournament," Houghton had said of his charges.
India played their best match of the tournament against Turkmenistan with all the players chipping in though captain Baichung Bhutia scored a brace to seal the victory.
The back four were spot on, the midfield up to their task and strikers Baichung and Sunil Chhetri creating havoc whenever India raided the rival defence. Goalkeeper Subrata Paul was outstanding under the bar.
Houghton later described that match as one of India's best in the last 12 months.
The home team, however, would take Myanmar lightly at their own peril at Gachibowli Stadium tomorrow, considering that the South East Asians had beaten Sri Lanka and Nepal by impressive margins of 3-1 and 3-0 before losing to title favourites DPR Korea 0-1 in their last Group B match.
India have played Sri Lanka and Nepal at regional tournaments like the SAFF Cup and know that beating Sri Lanka and Nepal by that margin was no mean job and they can't lower their guards on Thursday.
The Myanmaree, ranked nearly 30 places below India in the FIFA charts, are technically sound and they play short and fast-paced game under the influence of their Brazillian coach Marcos Antonio Falopa.
Falopa had taken Myanmar to two final appearances last year -- in Merdeka Cup and South East Asia Games.
They have two nippy forwards in captain Soe Myat Min and Paing Yan who have shared three goals between them, and midfielders Win Thein Waza and Myo Min Tun to bank on for the crucial supplies upfront.
Falopa had said though India would be a tough opponent at home his charges are capable of springing a surprise.
"We are a technically sound team and we play fast paced and crisp passing football and we gave the Koreans a run for their money. So it would be a tough match for India," Falopa had said after their DPR Korea match.
With India reaching the semifinals, the AFC and AIFF officials are hoping that a bigger crowd throng the Gachibowli Stadium tomorrow and in the final.
The spectator attendance at the Gachibowli Stadium has been poor with 2500-odd in the match between India and Turkmenistan the best so far.
Most of the matches were earlier scheduled to be held at Lal Bahadur Stadium which is at the center of the city but due to poor ground conditions there the main venue was shifted to Gachibowli Stadium, more than 20 km from the city.
Moreover, with rain gods relenting in the past 48 hours, the ground conditions at Gachibowli Stadium will be much improved as compared to the heavy surface in India vs Turkmenistan match on Sunday.
India: Baichung Bhutia (captain), Subrata Paul, Surkumar Singh, Mahesh Gawli, Gouramangi Singh, Renedy Singh, Sunil Chhetri, Anwar Ali, Steven Dias, Climax Lawrence, N P Pradeep, Clifford Miranda, Syed Rahim Nabi, Sameer Naik, Baldeep Singh (Jr), Bungo Singh, Ajayan Krishanan Nair, Mehrajuddin Wadoo, Abhishek Yadav, Deepak Mondal, Sushil Kumar Singh, Subhashish Roy Chowdhary, Govin Moirangthem.
Myanmar: Soe Myat Min (captain), Aung Aung Oo, U Min Thu, Moe Win, Khin Maung Lwin, Zaw Htet Aung, Yan Paing, Soe Myat Min, Myo Min Tun, Tun Tun Win, Yaza Win Thein, Aung Htay, Thura Aung, Aung Myo Thant, Soe Thiha Aung, Han Win Aung, Aye San, Si Thu Win, Kyaw Zayar Win, Kyaw Zin Htet, Tun Min Oo, Pai Soe, Kyaw Moe, Nyi Nyi Lwin.