The India senior national football team take to the field in a competitive game for the first time this calendar year following their SAFF Cup 2015 win in January. Stephen Constantine's army take on Iran Thursday in their penultimate Russia 2018 Preliminary Joint Qualifiers.
Sunil Chhetri, the Indian football talisman, is not a part of the travelling squad and Jeje Lalpekhlua will don the captain's armband in his absence at the Azadi Stadium in Iran. The last time the two teams faced in the competition, Iran put up a great show to bag a 3-0 win at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru.
India have just one win in the World Cup qualifiers from their last six games, with five losses. Their only win came at home against Guam in Bangalore last November. Robin Singh was the only goalscorer in the match.
The lanky forward is also not part of the India squad as he is currently in rehabilitation for a knee injury suffered in the opening game of SAFF Cup 2015.
"Playing Iran in Iran is as tough as it can get," Constantine explained via an AIFF press release. "It's like David vs Goliath on the field. Iran are the Giants of Asia [ranked 44: highest in Asia].
"We will fight and try to get something out from the match. On paper, we have nothing to lose. We will give everything which we have. If we can take anything out of this game it will be a bonus."
India stand no chance of progressing to the next round of the World Cup qualifiers as they have won just once and lost as many as five group games in the competition. They are currently at the bottom of the table, however, two wins in a row (against Iran and Turkmenistan later) can see them finish second-last.
Iran coach Carlos Queiroz had said after their first leg clash that India are very aggressive. Constantine assures that being aggressive on the field has become India Team's typical style now.
"That's [Being aggressive is] our style, our game; that's how we are," the British coach said. "The Indian National football team loves to express themselves on the field. We have the ability to stand up for ourselves and we step out into the Azadi Stadium, we will walk out with full respect for Team Melli [Iran], but will not fear them."
Iran, meanwhile, will look to play for another win. Following six games, they sit top of the Group D of the AFC World Cup Qualifiers and they are keen on maintaining that spot. "We need three points against India since we want to maintain our place in the table," Iran coach Queiroz told Persian Football. "On Thursday, We want to put on a good show at home and get the three points against India.
The match is scheduled to kick off at 7 p.m. local time (8 p.m. IST) March 24.
Where to watch live
TV information: In India, there will be no broadcast of the game. However, residents in Iran can catch the game on Channel 3.