Stephen Constantine handed out seven debuts in the first match of his second stint as the manager of the Indian national team. It was a new-look Indian side that outclassed a feeble Nepal 2-0 in Guwahati on March 12, 2015, courtesy of a brace from Sunil Chhetri.
Amongst those seven debutantes, only Pritam Kotal and Sandesh Jhingan are part of the current Indian contingent that is gearing up to face Oman on Thursday in the first World Cup qualifier 2022.
Kotal earned his first national team call-up after a string of impressive displays in I-League for Mohun Bagan. It was evident that the young right-back had his nerves jangling in the initial minutes of the match as Nepal's Bharat Khawas dribbled past him on a couple of occassions. He even earned a booking as early as in the sixth minute of the match while trying to stop Khawas.
But as the game progressed the 21-year old showed composure, vanquished the butterflies in the belly and put up a sturdy performance. He chose to stick to the basics and focus on defending. But the youngster did not hold himself back from committing a tackle when required, although a single untimely challenge would have sent him off the field.
In that four-man backline, there were three fresh faces. Apart from Kotal, there was another youngster who was playing his first match in the blue jersey and started at the heart of defence partnering a veteran in Arnab Mondal. He was Sandesh Jhingan, who now has 34 national team appearances to his name and has established himself as one of the key players in the national team setup.
Jhingan showed that he might not be one of the fastest players on the pitch but his sense of positioning and superior match reading ability will cover up for his lack of pace. He fought well against Jagjit Shrestha and won most of the aerial duels against the striker giving an account of his heading prowess which would become a vital weapon in India's arsenal.
The fact that these two have cemented their places in the national team and have also become an indispensable member of their respective club teams highlights their perseverance.
A lot will depend on the duo against Oman as Indian are gradually adapting themselves to a new style of football that involves playing out from the back. Moreover, after conceding 11 goals in the last five matches defence will definitely be under the scanner.
But Guwahati has been a happy hunting ground for the Blue Tigers. They have never lost a match in the Indira Gandhi Atheltic Stadium and in their last outing at this venue, they thumped Laos 6-1 in an AFC Cup 2019 Qualification match. And amongst the five different goal-scorers for India Sandesh Jhingan's name shone bright and clear on the scoresheet.