The Indian men and women football team were finally cleared by the sports ministry to participate in the Incheon Asian Games, which will be held from 19th September to 4th October. The men’s squad will comprise of 20 players and India manager Wim Koevermans has already named his team. The Blue Tigers, who are placed in Group G of the competition, will begin their campaign against United Arab Emirates (UAE) on 15th September before facing Jordan in their final group stage game a week later. It is no doubt a tough group and India have to play out of their skins to have any chance of reaching the knock-out rounds of the tournament.
India faced their arch-rivals Pakistan in a two-match series on home soil last month as both nations used the bilateral series to prepare for the Incheon Asian Games. The series ended 1-1 with India winning the first game and the visitors coming out victorious
from the second and final fixture. Robin Singh’s 70th-minute strike was the difference between the two teams at the Bangalore Football Stadium in the first encounter. However, the Men in Blue succumbed to an embarrassing 2-0 loss in the next game, with Kaleemullah and Saddam Hussein netting for Pakistan, who are 14 places below India in the FIFA World Ranking in 164th spot. Koevermans is under tremendous pressure to save his job after the demoralising defeat, which was India’s first at the hands of their neighbours since 2005. Incidentally, it was also Pakistan’s first ever victory on Indian soil. With Koevermans’ post hanging in the balance, another poor outing from his side in South Korea is likely to see the Dutch being removed from the managerial hot-seat.
The All India Football Federation(AIFF) also organised an exposure tour of China for the national team in view of preparing for the Asian Games. India defeated Chinese club JiangSu Sainty 3-0 in the first of the two friendly games, courtesy of goals apiece from Sunil Chhetri, Robin Singh and Alwyn George, who was later dropped from the final squad. India rounded off their exposure tour of China with another victory against a local club Shanghai East Asia with Chhetri and Mandar Rao Desai being the goalscorers.
Similar to the Olympic Games, the age limit for the men teams in the Asian Games is Under-23, with three overage players allowed in every squad. The three Indian senior players are skipper Sunil Chhetri, Robin Singh and Francis Fernandes. Interestingly, the trio are all forwards.
Goalkeepers: Amrinder Singh, Ravi Kumar, Kamaljit Singh.
Amrinder Singh will be India’s first-choice between the sticks in South Korea. The Pune FC custodian gave a good account of himself during the bilateral series against Pakistan by making some crucial saves. Amrinder is a product of Pune FC’s youth set-up and made his first team debut for the club in 2011 at the age of 18. Ravi Kumar and Kamaljit Singh will provide the necessary back-up for the 21-year-old.
Defenders: Pritam Kotal, Keenan Almeida, Joyner Lourenco, Shankar Sampingiraj, Sandesh Jhingan, Narayan Das.
Pritam Kotal and Narayan Das are the names to watch out for in this segment. The full-backs, who are more than competent defenders, are also known for their darting runs down the flanks. Kotal and Das also have the experience of playing in high-profile matches, having represented Mohun Bagan and Dempo respectively in the I-League. Meanwhile, the central defensive duo of Sandesh Jhingan and Joyner Lourenco will look to keep the rival attackers at bay, while also going up during set-pieces to take advantage of their heights. Keenan Almeida and Shankar Sampingiraj are more likely to be used as substitutes by Koevermans at the Asian Games.
Midfielders: Pronoy Halder, Clifton Dias, Siam Hangal, Lalrindika Ralte, Milan Singh.
Pronoy Halder, the Dempo player will play just in front of the back-four and will be expected to take the role of a spoiler. He will have Begaluru FC’s Siam Hangal’s as his partner in this regard and the pair will look to distribute balls all over the park. But helping out their defence will remain Halder and Hangal’s primary task. On the other hand, the trio of Clifton Dias, Lalrindika Ralte and Milan Singh will undertake a more attacking role. However, in all probabilities, only one player of the three will make it to the starting eleven.
Forwards: Francis Fernandes (senior player), Seiminlen Doungel, Sunil Chhetri (senior player), Robin Singh (senior player), Haokip Thongkoshim, Mandar Rao Desai.
The striking department is undoubtedly India’s strength in the tournament with all the three senior players being forwards. Robin
Singh will be the furthermost player and will spearhead the Men in Blue’s attack. The Bengaluru FC player will have his club team-mate and national team captain Sunil Chhetri operating just behind him along with Francis Fernandes and Mandar Rao Desai. Robin, however has to keep his volatile temperament under check if he wishes to nail down a regular starting spot. The former East Bengal striker unexplainably got himself sent off during his nation’s first clash with Pakistan last month and was hence suspended for the next contest. Seiminlen Doungel and Haokip Thongkoshim will mostly start on the bench and will come on in case of injuries or if the situation demands.
Possible Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Amrinder Singh; Narayan Das, Sandesh Jhinghan, Joyner Laourenco, Pritam Kotal; Pranoy Halder, Siam Hangal; Mandar Rao Desai, Sunil Chhetri; Francis Fernandes, Robin Singh
As mentioned earlier, India, who are ranked 150th in the FIFA World Rankings, find themselves in a tough group with both UAE and Jordan being miles ahead in the rankings. UAE are ranked 65th while Jordan are further nine places ahead in 56th spot. Jordan head into the tournament with two wins in their last five games. Ex-England international and former Chelsea assistant manager Ray Wilkins is the head coach of the Chivalrous, who have also tasted two defeats during the period. However, Jordan managed to grind out an impressive 1-1 draw with China in their last outing, despite falling behind against the mighty Dragons. On the other hand, UAE, who won silver in the previous edition of the Asian Games, have tasted defeat just once in their last 25 matches. The Whites held South American nation Paraguay to a goalless draw in their last game at the weekend. Going by the books, it will be very difficult for India to come out with a positive result from any of the matches. But then again, football is a funny game.
15th September 2014 – UAE v India
22nd September 2014 – India v Jordan