New Delhi: The all-important AFC Asian Cup is just over a couple of months away and as one would expect, the Indian team has begun their preparations for what will be their fourth ever appearance at the competition. Stephen Constantine’s side will take on China on October 13th, Suzhou Olympic Sports Centre in the first of three friendly matches ahead of the tournament.
The 28 member squad, including 13 U-23 players, captained by India’s all-time leading goal scorer Sunil Chhetri underwent a two-day training camp at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in the national capital, before they fly out to China on October 10th.
“One or two days is not enough time, it is not the ideal preparation. Unfortunately, we have not been able to try out the kind of things we would have wanted to because of the schedule,” the coach said on the second day of the camp.
While the Indian Super League has currently gone on a week-long break, and will also be taking a break during the Asian Cup in January, the coach is unhappy about the fact that all of his players have not been able to train on both days of the two day camp due to the domestic commitments with respective clubs.
Some of the players in the national team, including the captain, played in the Bengaluru FC vs Jamshedpur FC match on October 7th.
“At this point in time, we cannot go through the usual routine of testing the players’ fitness, but since they have more or less all played a couple of games with their clubs, I assume they are in shape.”
The team has also been dealt a blow in attack, as Balwant Singh has had to pull out of the squad due to unforeseen circumstances. Frustrated and disappointed with this development, Constantine says that he will look to give younger players game time whenever the chances arise.
"Balwant's passport will expire in less than six months, five months and a week to be exact. So, he has been dropped which is unfortunate because he would have had game time," the coach said.
China, coached by the Italian World Cup winning coach Marcello Lippi has experienced a dip in form in recent months, but there is no taking the side, which is ranked 21 spots better than India, lightly. Constantine insists that, even though he hasn’t particularly got his way with preparation, the contest on Saturday will help assess the needs of the team ahead of January.
“This will be a high pressure game and we need to win in such situations to ensure our preparations are on track. We will go all out, friendly or not,” the Briton shot back when asked about what he expects from this assignment.
Aim to Keep it Clean at the Back
In preparation for the Asian Cup, where the group stage opponents will feature hosts UAE, Thailand and Bahrain, India will play Jordan and Oman in friendly internationals after the match against China.
“We (Sandesh, Anas, Subhasish and Pritam) will have a lot of responsibility against China. This is the time we need use to fine tune and work on our weaknesses and hopefully we can keep cleansheet,” says defender Pritam Kotal.
During the qualification stages India were grouped with Kyrgyzstan, Macau and Myanmar, and managed to keep a clean sheet in only three games, one against each. The Blue Tigers finished top of the group with four wins, one draw and one defeat.
Sandesh Jhingan, Anas Edathodika, Pritam Kotal and Subhasish Bose are likely to be the first choice picks ahead of the goal-keeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and will have their task cut out through the next few months.
Goal-keepers: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Amrinder Singh, Karanjit Singh.
Defenders: Pritam Kotal, Sarthak Golui, Sandesh Jhingan, Anas Edathodika, Salam Ranjan Singh, Subhasish Bose, Narayan Das.
Midfielders: Udanta Singh, Nikhil Poojary, Pronay Halder, Rowllin Borges, Anirudh Thapa, Vinit Rai, Halicharan Narzary, Ashique Kuruniyan.
Forwards: Sunil Chhetri, Jeje Lalpekhlua, Sumeet Passi, Farukh Choudhary.