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The UAE are not only the tournament hosts, enjoying home crowd support, but they are also ranked 18 positions higher than India in the world, and have a better head-to-head record against the Blue Tigers, winning eight out of the last 13 meetings together since 1979.
After the first set of group games this week however — where India romped four past Thailand to win 4-1, and the UAE recorded a meek 1-1 draw against Bahrain — trying to predict the outcome of this match is beginning to get a lot harder.
The UAE had only won two of their last 10 games coming into this tournament, and they are without injured talisman Omar Abdul Rahman and the man everyone tipped as his successor Rayan Yaslam — both are injured.
India, meanwhile, high on confidence from their 4-1 opening win, are looking more and more like springing an upset, especially against a below-par UAE side, who, even at home, may get intimidated by India’s vast and vocal expatriate support.
Pundits are saying this game is make or break for the UAE, as defeat would almost certainly put them out of the tournament. It might not however, as a high-scoring win in their last group game against Thailand on January 14, could still see them qualify as one of the four best third-place finishers, depending on other results.
What it would do, however, is damage pride heading into that match, especially in a game between two countries who are so intrinsically linked, with over two million Indians living in the UAE. Although India isn’t an Arab neighbour, it effectively feels like a derby what with that potentially huge Indian expatriate support.
An Indian win would definitely confirm their progression to the next round of the competition for the first time in 55-years. So, there’s an awful lot riding a game that would have previously been waved off as one-way traffic.