Kolkata: India was placed in Group-E along with Bangladesh, Oman, Afghanistan and Qatar for their 2022 World Cup and 2023 Asian Cup campaign. While India does not stand a chance for qualifying for the next round of the qualifiers, however, ensured a third-round entry directly in the 2023 Asian Cup qualifiers. Indian men managed seven points from eight matches and registered their only win against Bangladesh in Doha.
India began their campaign with a very narrow defeat against Oman, but that was followed by a valiant goalless draw against Qatar in Doha. Bangladesh held India 1-1 draw at Kolkata and a draw against Afghanistan as well. They suffered a 1-0 defeat against Oman yet again and after being 10 men down 1-0 defeat to Qatar. India managed just three goal scorers across the entire campaign namely, Sunil Chhetri, Adil Khan and Seiminlen Doungel.
Igor Stimac gave chances to many youngsters who had impressive spells for the country in spite of an underwhelming campaign in the qualifiers. Taking a look at some players who were able to shine during their limited time :
The 24-year-old centre back has left a mark during his time with the men in blue. The Hyderabad FC player has been strong at the back for the limited game time he got. He debuted for India against Oman on 25th March 2021, which ended in 1-1 draw.
The Manipur born defender started his career from the Mahindra United youth setup and was first selected for 35 man squad ahead of friendlies against Oman and UAE. During the qualifier campaign, he played only two matches and possess exceptional distribution with the ball.
Hyderabad FC coach Manuel Marquez said, “For me, Sana is technically the best centre back (in the ISL).” His numbers with Hyderabad is impressive and only makes the hope for the future more bright for the Blue Tigers. The exposure to ISL is only going to help in improving his play and give him more starts for his country.
The FC Goa midfielder played and impressed during his time with the Blue Tigers. He debuted against Qatar and played over 68 minutes. The 25year old is another prospect who looks good on paper and field for the Indian squad.
He came through the SESA Football Academy in Goa. But his time with ATK Mohun Bagan during 2020-21 season was disappointing as he spent much time on the bench before moving to FC Goa. He became an indisputable player for FC Goa in their midfield both in ISL and AFC Champions League.
For India his workload was tremendous as he was all over the field, linking the defence with the attack. Against Bangladesh, the 2-0 victory was credited a lot to him, as he had 95% passing accuracy, 18 challenges,12 ball recoveries and 6 tackles.
Suresh Singh Wangjam –
Another midfielder on the list, the 27-year-old Suresh. The Bengaluru FC player hailing from Manipur debuted also against Oman in the 1-1 draw on 25th March 2021. During the victory against Bangladesh Wangjam and Martins played as double pivots.
He marshalled the centre of the field. He even assisted the second goal of Chhetri. He was all over the field along with Martins and shared his workload. Creating more attacking spaces are advised to an otherwise brilliant display by them and more the exposure they get, more the game time against more tougher opponents experience is going to help them open up their play.
Although the question remains, even at 33 years of age Sunil Chhetri is the talisman of Indian football. The highest scorer in the campaign for the Blues and his records and accolades perfectly garland for his humongous efforts. But who is supposed to take on the baton from him? Scoring has been a constant problem for India solved mainly by Chhetri.
Prospects like Manvir Singh, Ishan Pandita with goal-scoring flare, peek out when the question arises. India needs to retrospect and build-up for the void that will be left behind by Chhetri when he decides to hang his boots. Although that is an answer to be conjectured as Chhetri says he will play till he enjoys playing football and his fitness and strict discipline is exemplary. Only to prolong his playing time for India.