After much suspense and with numerous names being thrown around on social media as speculation on the squad to face Palestine built, Wim Koevermans finally revealed his list of 23 players.
The inclusion of Izumi Arata, the Japanese born player of Indian origin, who only received his passport last year, grabbed the headlines. At further analysis though, the squad turns out to be a mix of players who have gotten recognized for some stellar performances in recent times, alongwith a few who have banked on their reputation to make it through.
Worryingly for the fans of the Blue Tigers, a majority of the players who starred in the Nehru Cup triumph, belong to the latter half.
While a 38 year old Sandip Nandy has found a place in the team, having reinvigorated his career in Goa, he shall be largely restricted to the bench, as Subrata Paul is a likely starter.
While Subrata has been in brilliant form for the national team over the years, it remains a fact that he has spent most of the season warming the bench at Prayag United. Infact in a recent interview, Eelco Schattorie confidently proclaimed that Sangram Mukherjee was his first choice goalkeeper, which must certainly do no wonders to the confidence of the former Pune FC goalkeeper.
The defense has huge issues, with players out of form and favour...
The likely central defensive pairing of Gouramangi Moirangthem and Raju Gaikwad are also suffering from the same conundrum. While the former Churchill Brothers defenders has managed to keep his place in Prayag’s XI, it is more to do with the lack of options at Schattorie’s disposal, than to the form of the player himself.
Infact he and Bello Rasaq have often given such disjointed performances together, you could be forgiven for thinking that they never have a practice session together.
You can’t say the same about Raju Gaikwad though. Primarily because the defender, whose primary weapon is possibly his long throw than his defending, has hardly been on the field to have any sort of impact at all.
Why Arnab Mondal has been left on the stand-by list is anyone's guess
Why Arnab Mondal, who alongside Uga Okpara has formed a mean central defensive pairing, has been left on the stand-by list, when the squad is so thin on quality centre-backs, is anyone’s guess.
The problems don’t end there, as the two regular wing-backs Nirmal Chettri and Syed Rahim Nabi, have only returned to action recently, after Mohun Bagan’s suspension was cleared. Even then, Chettri has had an ordinary season, while Nabi has been utilized much further up the field by Karim Bencherifa.
It remains to be seen if Denzil Franco and Gurjinder Kumar, both of whom have been in great form this season, get a chance to stake a claim to a starting berth, with Nabi possibly moving further up the field.
How many of these should make the eleven against Palestine...
The midfield has better options than before. The likes of C.K Vineeth and Arata Izumi will definitely bring some verve and class to the team, with the former Chirag United player having flourished at Prayag United.
Of those who played a major role in the Nehru Cup, Clifford Miranda, Lenny Rodrigues and Mehtab Hussain have continued in good touch, and should be assured of their places.
Only Clifford, Lenny and Mehtab have been in good form from the Nehru Cup starting XI
Sanju Pradhan was omitted, and he is perhaps one of the few, alongwith Robin Singh, who have paid for a poor I-League season. It must be pointed that the East Bengal skipper has been injured for most of the campaign.
Francis Fernandes and Sunil Chhetri too have not had a vintage season. Chhetri of course was pathetic for Mohun Bagan last year as well, but has always managed to shrug off his lean patch at club level to do well for the country. This season he has only made a handful of appearances for the Sporting Clube de Portugal ‘B’ side. Francis meanwhile is involved in a relegation battle with Salgaocar FC, and his game has consequently suffered.
While Arata or Vineeth could possibly replace Francis from the starting eleven, there is no option that fills one with confidence, in the central striker position.
Exchanging the bench for a chair...
Manandeep Singh has had a largely hit-and-miss season with East Bengal, while the inclusion of Sushil Kumar Singh is perhaps the most surprising of the lot.
With 3 goals from 17 games, his prolific scoring record could definitely not have led to his selection. While he has been one of the few Indian strikers to see lots of game-time, that has got more to do with the lack of options at Shillong Lajong.
Joaquim Abranches, who alongwith team-mate Clifford Miranda is the top-scorer amongst Indians, must be wondering why he only finds himself in the stand-by list.
Worse is the faith of Subhash Singh. The Pune FC striker has scored 4 goals in 12 games this season, and has largely impressed with his pace and work-rate upfront. However he is not even in the stand-by list, having been edged out by Jeje Lalpekhlua, who has largely been playing second fiddle to the former Salgaocar striker this season.
Hence it is a cause of much worry to the fans of the Blue Tigers, that while Wim Koevermans has tried to strike a balance between players who have done well under him in the past, while rewarding those who have had a great season so far, the core of the team looks worryingly soft.
Especially in defense and attacking areas, the options at the disposal of the Dutchman are really worrying. The question regarding whether he has can make the best use out of these resources, will be answered after the game against Palestine in Kochi.
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