Coming on the back of a Nehru Cup triumph against a strong Cameroon B side and a scrapped Yemen friendly, India is set to lock horns with Palestine in a friendly on 6th February, 2013 at the Jawahar Lal Nehru Stadium in Cohin, Kerala. With a little over a week to go for the friendly, Indian National team Dutch coach has come out with his list of 23 man squad for the fixture.

India has been doing well under the Dutch coach, clinching the Nehru Cup and with U-22 reigns with the Australian, Arthur Papas, India has had a good last year, with the U-22 side performing really well in the qualifiers. The foreigners have tried to change the lone long ball approach and as the modern day football demands, have backed possession football.

With Michael Chopra, among a few others toiled hard to get their chance to represent India, Arata Izumi became the first naturalized player to play for India. After a good I-League campaign, though the Pune FC midfielder was rewarded, there were a few players who went unseen even for their good performances. The likes of Joaquim Abranches, Subasish Rowchowdhury, Arnab Mondal, Peter Carvalho missed the bus inspite of coming of the back of a string of impressive performances, but the limelight has been hogged by the Japanese turned Indian, Arata Izumi, who said, “I am very happy. It feels great I am honoured. Given, I am the first nauturalised player to play for India, it makes the feeling special.”

The attacking midfielder has been really impressive for the Pune FC outfit, who are giving the title contenders, a run for their money, much of which boils down to the ever-consistent performances of the debut-ant  The 30 year old has contributed four goals to the Pune outfit in addition to notching up a few assists. He, alongside James Moga and Subhash Singh has made for a threatening attacking lineup. The newly turned Indian revealed how tough a decision it was to accept Indian citizenship and was only confirmed, once he consulted with the close and dear ones. The Pune FC midfielder also aims at giving his 100% for the Indian team, though, he remains modest of the potential value addition he makes. Considering, India do not have enough playmakers, Arata could be the one to play just behind the striker distributing balls, both wide and to the front-man in wake of creating goal scoring opportunities and do not shy in making a run himself. If Arata could emulate his Pune FC form, he truly will be a great asset for Wim Koevermans and would give India the right balance.

Though, the question on when the best XI will play for India still lingers, let us go through the 23 man squad for the upcoming friendly:

GOALKEEPING

GOALKEEPERS: Subrata Pal (Prayag United), Sandip Nandy (Churchill Brothers). Karanjit Singh (Salgaocar SC).

Sandip Nandy Makes A Comeback

This was the one department India would have been more assured of going into any match with one of Asia’s finest keeper, Subrata Pal in their ranks. But with the recent dip in form and little playing time for Prayag, Subrata has been off for a while. On the contrary, the 38 years old inform Churchill custodian, Sandip Nandy has made the cut ahead of Subasish Rowchowdhury and the impressive, young Gurpreet Singh Sandhu. Karanjit Singh of Salgaocar, inspite of being average, has made the cut. On the whole, the goalkeeping department looks good, but not great as before.

THT Verdict: Good

THT Man to watch out for: Sandip Nandy

THT notable miss: Subasish Rowchowdhury

DEFENCE

DEFENDERS: Nirmal Chhetri (Mohun Bagan), Gouramangi Singh (Prayag United), Shouvik Ghosh (Pailan Arrows), Syed Rahim Nabi (Mohun Bagan), Gurjinder Kumar (Pune FC), Raju Gaikwad (East Bengal), Denzil Franco (Churchill Brothers).

Syed Rahim Nabi

Defense has always been an area of concern for the Indian National team, leaking cheap goals. The defense after leaking soft goals in the AFC challenge cup came under scrutiny and was much assured in comparison in the Nehru Cup. With the ageing players making way for the young guns, Wim Koevermans has gone in with a younger looking defense  drafting in the U-22 lad Shouvik Ghosh and Pune FC youngster Gurjinder. But the disappointment has come in the form of Arnab Mondal and Rowilson Rodrigues missing, in-spite of regular first team and good performance in the league so far.

The problem with defense is that usual first choice Raju Gaikwad hasn’t got playing time under his belt, while Gourmangi having played more games than not, hasn’t been on top of his game. The full-back area looks good with options at the helm of the Dutch coach. While the compact Nirmal Chhetri and swift Denzil Franco are options at right-back, Gurjinder and the versatile and player of the year, Nabi occupying the left flank.

THT Verdict: Fair

THT Man to watch out for: Syed Rahim Nabi

THT notable misses: Arnab Mondal, Rowilson Rodrigues.

MIDFIELD 

MIDFIELDERS: Lenny Rodrigues (Churchill Brothers), Lalkamal Bhowmick (Prayag United), Arata Izumi (Pune FC), Mehtab Hossain (East Bengal), Francis Fernandes (Salgaocar), Anthony Pereira (Dempo SC), Alwyn George (Pailan Arrows), Jewel Raja (Mohun Bagan), Clifford Miranda (Dempo SC), Vineeth CK (Prayag United).

Vineeth Has Been Awarded For Consistent Display

The most pivotal area on the pitch witnesses most changes, with Arata and Vineeth handed maiden calls, while Lalkamal Bhowmick too makes it to the squad after being irregular in the squad.  This probably seems to be India’s strongest area on the pitch. While, Mehtab Hossain holds up the play, Lenny Rodrigues can play perfect foil to him in the middle of the park, while Clifford Miranda, Anthony Pereira, Francis Fernandes, Jewel Raja and Arata Izumi provide the necessary width. The new entrant, Vineeth CK, who got a call-up owing to his impressive performances for Viva Kerala and Prayag United this season, could might well some in handy for the Indian side.

Alwyn George is a natural playmaker but the Japanese turned Indian, Arata Izumi could well be drafted into the position. This is one area India now look strong in with options at their disposal, quality ones too. Jewel Raja’s inclusion ahead of Sanju Pradhan comes in as a surprise, while Peter Carvalho too would be disappointed on not being rewarded for his performances. But, with Carvalho on the wrong side of 30, the move makes sense.

THT Verdict: Very Good

THT Man to watch out for: Arata Izumi

THT notable miss: Sanju Pradhan

FORWARDS 

FORWARDS: Sunil Chhetri (Sporting Lisbon), Manandeep Singh (East Bengal), Sushil Kumar Singh (Shillong Lajong FC).

The Key Man Once Again

Sunil Chhetri’s name makes things look rosy, but few know, he has been perilously out of playing time and that may be an area of concern. But considering the Sporting Club Portugal player is a fighter, he is truly Indian team’s biggest asset at the moment. Alongside him are the young Manadeep Singh and Sushil Kumar, who have been in contrasting form, with the latter having a better spell in the league. Both are touted to be future of India’s striking departments and if they get any playing time, they might want to prove a point and their worth to the coach and justify their inclusion.

THT Verdict: Good

THT Man to watch out for: Sunil Chhetri

THT notable miss: Joaquim Abranches

REACTIONS:

Probable Starting XI

Koevermans, under whom India had won the Nehru Cup in September 2012, maintained it’s a very important match for India. “We need to assess ourselves. We need more such matches,” he told www.the-aiff.com.

Sunil Chhetri who captained India in the Nehru Cup added: “Unless you play International Friendlies you cannot gauge where you stand. We stay grateful to AIFF for arranging the match.The passion for the sport in the Kerala stays unparallel and we expect a full house cheering for us against Palestine.