NEW DELHI (AP) – India coach Armando Colaco believes his team can turn around its 2014 World Cup qualifier against United Arab Emirates on Thursday, despite having lost the first leg 3-0 last weekend after being controversially reduced to nine men early the first half.
The defeat, which Colaco blamed squarely on the referee, has put India on the brink of elimination from World Cup qualifying in only the second round.
But India remains South Asia's best hope, with striker Sunil Chhetri saying only positives could be drawn from the difficulties in the United Arab Emirates.
''After what has happened in UAE, we got two red cards and played with nine men for about 75 minutes. It has put a lot of confidence for the home leg,'' Chhetri told reporters afer practice Tuesday. ''It's the chance for other players to prove themselves.
''We were emotionally charged, really pumped up after beating Qatar and one month camp. I really think if it was 11 vs. 11 players it would not have happened the way it happened.''
Colaco was upbeat as he prepared for the return match at Ambedkar Stadium in New Delhi.
''We know we have a tough task in hand but we are ready for the next encounter and if we can get an early goal, the result can be overturned,'' Colaco told the Indian Express.
atari referee Banjar Al Dosari handed out red cards to two Indian players within the first 23 minutes of play in Al Ain. The UAE converted both of the resulting penalties to go 2-0 up and added the third goal in the 82nd minute.
''The two red cards were unfair. I had written to the Asian Football Confederation in the past that Gulf referees should be kept out of matches involving a Gulf team,'' said Colaco, who replaced Englishman Bob Houghton as coach earlier this year. ''I think my boys played excellently against UAE. If we leave out the two penalties, it was like a goalless draw until the 81st minute. UAE never looked like a great team and had we played with 11 boys, I think we could even have beaten them.''
The coach also had praise for reserve goalkeeper Karanjit Singh, who took over from Subrata Pal, one of the two players red-carded.
''Karanjit played exceptionally well in the last match. I know, Subrata is a great goalkeeper, but nothing can be taken away from Karanjit,'' Colaco said.
''Our defense will have to play a very compact game. These boys are really talented and putting in everything to do well for the country. They are very eager to play and leave a mark in the home match.''
Indian administrators are desperate to revive football in the subcontinent, which was at its peak during the 1950s and 1960s.
India won gold medals in football at the 1951 and 1962 Asian Games and also finished fourth at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne. But the standard of the game slipped due to a lack of infrastructure and effective administration.
The All India Football Federation last year signed a 15-year, $140-million commercial contract with IMG-Reliance, which is aiming to promote and market the game in the country.
Chhetri thinks home advantage will definitely help India.
''We have won three tournaments in the last three years here, it is a lovely environment,'' he said. ''Of course, it will be tough to beat UAE. But the important thing is not to think about what has happened in UAE but to think Thursday's match as a fresh game. It is about getting your whole act together.''