India's first major test in the post-Bhaichung Bhutia era is whether they can make a hat-trick of Nehru Cup victories when they take the field against Syria in the five-nation tournament here Wednesday.
A new coach, a new captain and some fresh faces will not have luxury of falling back on the experience of either Climax Lawrence or Mahes Gawli besides Bhutia, making the the task of the lowest-ranked team in the tournament that much more difficult.
Skipper Sunil Chettri, who plays for Sporting Lisbon's B side, hoped his Portugal stint will come in handy when the team steps on to the monsoon-freshened lush green turf at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, where they won the SAFF Cup in December.
The Delhi star striker is not bothered much about his team being the lowest ranked in the tournament, he feels India have the ability to defend the title. Cameroon (59), Nepal (162) and Maldives (161) are the other teams besides the highly popular Syria (147) and the hosts.
Syria are no strangers here, they played in the last editions of the tournament and lost to India in both the finals.
The civil war in Syria has taken a heavy toll on their football and to add to their woes FIFA scratched them from the 2014 World Cup qualifiers for fielding an ineligible player Georg Mourad, a former Swedish international.
While India have beaten Maldives recently in the SAFF Cup, Nepal were the surprise package in the regional tournament.
The Himalayan Kingdom is hugely popular in the national capital and their fan following is as much as that of the Indian team.
Going by the rankings, Cameroon are the tournament favourites, but the side here is not their real national squad. It is not the 'Indomitable Lions,’ it is their ‘A’ team packed with players from local clubs.
Looking at the relative strengths of the teams, India will not only find Syria and Cameroon tough but also South Asian neighbours Nepal and Maldives, who have both harassed them.
But the Indian team, which is a mix of young and experience, has the ability to overcome the challenge, or so the the new coach Wim Koevermans feels.
Koevermans wants to take one match at a time.
"Syria is a very good team. Our boys have the ability to win the match. We have to take one match at a time," the Dutchman said.
India's star goalkeeper Subrata Paul, hero of the 2009 win, is back after a long-injury lay-off and he will have Nirmal Chettri, Raju Gaekwad, Gourmangi Singh and Syed Rahim Nabi to shield him.
The mid-field has the experienced Clifford Miranda, who along with Sanju Pradhan will cover the flanks with Mehtab Hussain and Alwyn George in the middle.
The 20-year-old George could be the player to watch out for. Playing for Pailan Arrows, the young midfielder has shown great composure with his pace, control, skill and stamina.
Chettri is likely to have a new partner in Manandeep Singh. But Koevermans may also start with a sole striker with Chettri and Lenny Rodrigues could be the extra man in the mid-field.
Goalkeepers: Subrata Pal, Subhasish Roychowdhury, Karanjeet Singh.
Defenders: Nirmal Chhetri, Denzil Franco, Gourmangi Singh, Gurwinder Singh, Raju Gaikwad, Syed Rahim Nabi.
Midfielders: Lenny Rodrigues, Mehtab Hossain, Jewel Raja, Francis Fernandes, Alwyn George, Anthony Pereira, Sanju Pradhan, Clifford Miranda.
Forwards: Robin Singh, Sunil Chhetri, Manandeep Singh.