India have embarked on their fourth ever AFC (Asian Football Confederation) Asian Cup adventure with the Blue Tigers set to rub shoulders with the continent’s best teams in the United Arab Emirates.
Stephen Constantine and his men booked their passage to the 24-team showpiece after topping their qualification group comprising of the Kyrgyz Republic, Myanmar and Macau.
Securing qualification to the tournament after a gap of eight years, India have been drawn in Group A alongside hosts UAE, Thailand and Bahrain.
The Blue Tigers have Stephen Constantine at the helm with the Englishman currently undergoing his second stint as the coach of the Indian National Team. Since replacing Dutchman Wim Koevermans at the start of 2015, Constantine has overseen a significant rise in the team’s fortunes as well as the FIFA rankings.
The team was languishing in the lowly 170s of the rankings when he took over the role in his second stint and is now back into the top 100 heading into the Asian Cup.
Constantine’s ongoing tenure has seen the team secure Asian Cup qualification after missing out on the 2015 edition and has also included an unbeaten run of 13 matches. Under the English coach, India have also won the 2017 Tri-Nations Cup as well as the 2018 Intercontinental Cup on home soil.
In Sunil Chhetri, India currently have the joint second highest active goalscorer in the international football arena. The Bengaluru FC forward has been the talisman of the team for many years running now and was India’s top scorer in the 2011 edition with two goals to his name.
The goalscoring burden in the UAE will once come fall on the shoulders of the 34-year-old who has always looked at his best when playing in India colours.
Another key player for India in the tournament will be custodian Gurpreet Singh Sandhu. Chhetri’s Bengaluru teammate has been the undisputed No.1 for the country over the past three years or so and he will have a big role to play between the sticks.
Like Subrata Paul in 2011, Gurpreet can expect his goal to be peppered by opposition attackers and he will have to rise tall to establish a formidable last line of defence for India.
Strengths and Weakness
With only Chhetri and Gurpreet Singh remaining from the squad which took part in the 2011 AFC Asian Cup, India’s players are short of big tournament experience heading into the competition.
The core of the squad is a young one with most of the players in the age bracket 24-27. The lack of experienced leaders could hamper the Blue Tigers in the UAE but that is not their only concern.
One major headache is the lack of goalscoring options apart from Chhetri currently with Jeje Lalpekhlua and Balwant Singh struggling for their respective Indian Super League (ISL) clubs in recent times. The same is the case with the defence where several regulars under Constantine have had poor ISL seasons for their clubs so far.
India’s most notable threat going forward against stronger continental opposition might come from set-pieces where the likes of Chhetri, Balwant and Sandesh Jhingan can be potent threats.
While the defenders might be struggling for club form currently, Constantine has shown that he can organize them well in the international arena as evidenced by India’s 0-0 stalemate in the historic friendly against China.
INDIA 23-MAN SQUAD
Goalkeepers: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu (Bengaluru), Amrinder Singh (Mumbai City), Vishal Kaith (FC Pune City);
Defenders: Pritam Kotal (ATK), Sarthak Golui (Pune City), Sandesh Jhingan (Kerala Blasters), Salam Ranjan Singh (East Bengal), Subhasish Bose (Mumbai City), Narayan Das (Delhi Dynamos); Anas Edathodika (Kerala Blasters)
Midfielders: Udanta Singh (Bengaluru), Rowllin Borges (NorthEast United), Anirudh Thapa (Chennaiyin), Vinit Rai (Delhi Dynamos), Halicharan Narzary (Kerala Blasters), Ashique Kuruniyan (Pune City), Germanpreet Singh (Chennaiyin), Pronay Halder (ATK), Jackichand Singh (Goa);
Forwards: Sunil Chhetri (Bengaluru), Jeje Lalpekhlua (Chennaiyin), Sumeet Passi (Jamshedpur), Balwant Singh (ATK)