Defending champions India will look to sort out their defensive blues when they take on Syria -- their opponents in final -- in the last round-robin fixture of the Nehru Cup international football tournament in Delhi on Saturday.
After losing 0-1 to Lebanon in their opening match of the torunament, India bounced back with a 2-0 victory over Kyrgyzstan and 3-1 win over Sri Lanka.
Saturday's match has been rendered inconsequential as Syria beat their traditional rivals Kyrgyzstan 1-0 on Thursday. However, the hosts would still want to win and carry the momentum into the August 31 final, where they meet the same opponents.
The back four has been the weakest link in the Indian side and they struggled against Lebanon and Kyrgyzstan.
Against Sri Lanka, they improved, but somehow offered a free header to the opposition to concede a goal from a corner, which coach Bob Houghton termed disappointing.
Even though his boys are through to the final, Houghton said they will play for a win on Saturday.
"We want to win every match and so we want to beat Syria in our last match. Syria are a strong side but we can beat them," Houghton said.
Defending champions India made sure of a berth in the India after beating Sri Lanka on Thursday irrespective of the results of their last
round-robin fixture against Syria and Friday's match between Sri Lanka and Kyrgyzstan.
India may get more than six points if they either draw or beat Syria, but even if they lose by a huge goal margin they make it to the final for the second consecutive time.
If Sri Lanka beat Kyrgyzstan by a huge goal margin they will get six points -- the same as India -- but the island country cannot make it to the final as they had lost to the home team 1-3 in their last round-robin match on Wednesday.
According to AFC rules, head-on result comes first before goal difference while deciding which team goes to next stage after league engagements.
All India Football Federation general secretary Alberto Colaco cleared the confusion and said India are already through to the final irrespective of the last two league matches.
"India and Syria have now qualified for the final now. Under AFC rules, if two teams get same points after league engagements which team advances to the next stage is decided first by looking into the maximum points between or among contending teams (those who have same points)," Colaco said.
If the matter is not resolved there the goal difference comes into play," he said.
"If Sri Lanka beats Kyrgyzstan and India lose to Syria, India and Sri Lanka will be the contending teams and India will be through into final as they have beaten Sri Lanka in the round-robin league stage," he added.
Meanwhile, Syrian coach Fajer Ebrahim said his team side will play a "casual game" against India as they want to prepare for the final.
"We will play a casual game as we have reached the final. I am not thinking of India match tomorrow and I am thinking of the final," he said.
He won't even bother any beating in the morale of his players if India beat his side by a big margin.
"Let them (India) have the chance to do that," he said.
Ebrahim hinted that a few key players, including star striker Mohammad Al Zeno, could be rested for the concluding league match.
"I think Al Zeno needs some rest but I have not decided. I will see if some reserve players can be fielded," he added.
For Houghton though, he is likely to field the same team which started against Sri Lanka so that they can have a feel of the Syrians before taking them again in the final.
He has the option to bring in the reserve players later in the match if India are not in a losing position.
In that situation, Houghton would want to replace Baichung Bhutia with Abhishek Yadav as the India captain has already got a yellow card in the match against Lebanon. He knows he can ill-afford to lose Bhutia for the final.
The same could be the case for the other Indian player who has got a yellow card -- right back Surkumar Singh, and veteran Deepak Mondal may come later in the match in his place after the Manipuri had a hang of the Syrian attackers.
India (from): Subrata Paul, Subhashish Roy Chowdhury, Ali Anwar, Deepak Mondal, Bhaichung Bhutia (C), Mahesh Gawli, Surkumar Singh, Gouramangi Singh, Samir Naik, Mehrajuddin Wadoo, N P Pradeep, Renedy Singh, Syed Rahim Nabi, Steven Dias, Anthony Pereira, Climax Lawrence, Sunil Chhetri, Sushil Kumar Singh, Abhishek Yadav.
Syria (from): Mosab Balhous, Moustafa Shakosh, Hamzeh Al Aitoni, Ali Dyab, Mohamed Al Zeno, Belal Abdul Daim, Abdul Razak Al Hussain, Abdul Fatah Alaga, Alaa Alshbli, Feras Ismail, Raja Rafe, Kawa Hisso, Moutaz Kaildni, Jwan Hisso, Ahmad Haj Mohamad, Bakri Tarrab.