India's preparations for the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying games against Turkmenistan and Oman hit a roadblock last month when Indian Super League franchises refused to release players for a national team training camp. The teams' refusal meant that India, already at the bottom of the group with three defeats from three games, now go to two crucial away games devoid of any proper preparation.
However, that hasn't stopped head coach Stephen Constantine of being hopeful of India's chances in the two matches. "The atmosphere is so positive in the camp. That's the speciality of national camps the world over," he told PTI on Monday, 5 October. Despite Constantine's optimism, India will have a mountain to climb in Ashgabat on Thursday.
Two players in the Indian team will be undegoing last-minute fitness tests ahead of the game. With Dhanpal Ganesh failing to recover from the injury he suffered against Iran, India will go into the game slightly under-strength.
In the last game against Iran, Constantine employed a three-men central midfield, and had three forwards up front. Despite a few defensive errors, India managed to keep a much superior Iranian attack at bay for most of the game. On Thursday, a similarly-shaped starting XI is likely to take the field against Turkmenistan.
Probable starting XI: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Pritam Kotal, Arnab Mondal, Sandesh Jhingan, Lalchhuanmawia, Eugeneson Lyngdoh, Pronay Halder, Rowlin Borges, Jeje, Robin Singh and Sunil Chhetri.
Turkmenistan go into this game with just one point from three games. The solitary point, however, has come against Iran in Ashgabat, which is a good illustration of how strong the team is at home. In their recent World Cup qualifier against Oman, Turkmenistan gave a strong Oman team a good run for their money before going down 1-3 in Al-Seeb.
India, on the other hand, are yet to pick up a point in their qualifying campaign, having lost their games against Oman, Guam and Iran. Even in a friendly game against Nepal a few days prior to facing Iran, India put up an insipid performance in a drab 0-0 draw. The team did well defensively against Iran in their last game; but as an offensive unit, they have been well below par this year.
Prediction: Turkmenistan 3-1 India
Given India's lack of preparation for the game, and the hectic travelling schedule ahead of it, the Blue Tigers will start as the underdogs on Thursday. With the situation the Indian team currently is in, anything but a win for Turkmenistan will be hugely disappointing for the home team.