Grappling with injuries to key midfielders, India on Saturday named a 26-member squad for the upcoming AFC Asian Cup with Sahal Abdul Samad making the cut but Jeakson Singh and Glan Martins missing out due to issues related to fitness. Top defensive midfielder Jeakson, who underwent shoulder injury in November, was always doubtful and so was Mohun Bagan’s Martins, who got injured recently. Both of them were among the 50 probables. However, Samad, who had also picked up an injury early this month, managed to get into the side that will be spearheaded by seasoned striker Sunil Chhetri.
The Indian senior men’s team head coach Igor Stimac announced the squad.
The Blue Tigers are due to arrive in Doha later on Saturday, ahead of marking their fifth appearance in the Asian Cup.
India will play their opening Group B match against Australia on January 13 at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan before facing Uzbekistan on January 18 at the same venue.
Stimac’s men will then move to the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor to take on Syria on January 23.
“All these boys are very similar in terms of football quality. We are a team, a family. But no matter the talent, if there is no character, nothing can be achieved,” Stimac said.
Sharing the areas he would want to improve upon ahead of the tournament, Stimac said, “The things we are looking to work on are defensive compactness, offensive transitions, and the set pieces, mostly. It will be very important to work on man-marking inside the box because I was not happy with that part of our game. In the last few games, we started leaking some unnecessary goals inside the box.” The 1998 Croatian World Cup semifinalist added, “All three of our opponents are very good technically, physically stronger with great speed. So, we are not going to have much difference in approach to all these three games, I can tell you that.
“We need to check the fitness level of our players at present and see how much we can develop in the next two weeks.” The Blue Tigers are no stranger to competing in Qatar, having played four of their 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers matches there, including two against the hosts.
Moreover, Chhetri and Gurpreet Singh Sandhu were part of the Indian squad at the 2011 AFC Asian Cup which was also held in Qatar. Chhetri scored a goal each against Bahrain and South Korea.
“I’m looking forward to seeing our Indian fans in Doha. They came in massive numbers to support the Indian team during the qualifiers, and that was one of the reasons why we had two great performances against Qatar here.
“So, I’m well aware that there will be massive support for our boys. Hopefully, we can pay them back and celebrate some good results,” said Stimac.
India’s squad: Goalkeepers: Amrinder Singh, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Vishal Kaith.
Defenders: Akash Mishra, Lalchungnunga, Mehtab Singh, Nikhil Poojary, Pritam Kotal, Rahul Bheke, Sandesh Jhingan, Subhasish Bose.
Midfielders: Anirudh Thapa, Brandon Fernandes, Deepak Tangri, Lalengmawia Ralte, Liston Colaco, Naorem Mahesh Singh, Sahal Abdul Samad, Suresh Singh Wangjam, Udanta Singh.
Forwards: Ishan Pandita, Lallianzuala Chhangte, Manvir Singh, Rahul Kannoly Praveen, Sunil Chhetri, Vikram Partap Singh.
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