On Sunday, India’s squad for the forthcoming SAFF Championship 2021 was revealed. Igor Stimac will lead a 23-man side to the tournament in the Maldives, where he wants to capture his first trophy with the Blue Tigers.
India’s roster is very similar to the one that recently played two friendly games against Nepal. Due to injuries and his obligations with HNK Sibenik, Sandesh Jhingan is unable to compete, while Amrinder Singh has also withdrawn at the last minute.
So, how good is this Blue Tigers team heading into the tournament? Let’s have a look at it.
The goalkeeping department, arguably the strongest for the Indian national team, is in good hands (pun intended). Amrinder Singh was named as one of the three goalkeepers for the SAFF Championship, however, Dheeraj Singh eventually took his place.
Gurpreet Singh Sandhu should, in theory, play the majority of the games. The No. 1 Indian national squad had a difficult time against Nepal, allowing a bad goal. Sandhu’s experience and ability to come up big in big games, on the other hand, should not be overlooked.
Dheeraj Singh is coming off a spectacular season with FC Goa in the Indian Super League (ISL) and the AFC Champions League, where he led the group with the most saves. His distribution and shot-blocking abilities ensure him playing time in the SAFF Championship.
The third-choice goalkeeper is Vishal Kaith. He’s also a capable shot-blocker with the skills to thrive in the tactician’s system. He is unlikely to participate in the SAFF Championship unless India suffers a severe goalkeeping crisis.
The fact that Stimac has only chosen to take one specialist centre-back to the SAFF Championship is a talking point. Chinglensana Singh is the only natural centre-back in the squad without Jhingan.
Of course, Rahul Bheke, Pritam Kotal, and Subhasish Bose are all capable of filling that function. However, neither is particularly skilled at it. Recently, both Kotal and Bose struggled in similar roles against FC Nasaf.
Stimac, on the other hand, has brought a team of seasoned defenders to the SAFF Championship. Kotal had a strong ISL season, while Bose performed admirably for ATK Mohun Bagan in the AFC Cup group rounds.
In the competition, Stimac will be hoping that Chinglensana can take command of his backline. The centre-back had a good season with Hyderabad FC in the Indian Super League and appears to have adjusted well to the Croatian system.
Seriton Fernandes has also been given the green light and will be vying for the right-back position. Fernandes now appears set to make an impression on the international scene after being so consistent for FC Goa in the ISL and AFC Champions League.
Mandar Rao Dessai is the team’s left-back option. He can play as a left-winger, left-wing-back, or full-back with ease. His versatility should help to expand the left-hand alternatives. Stimac will be hoping Mandar can fill in for Akash Mishra, who was unexpectedly left out of the team.
Ten midfielders are among the 23 players chosen for the squad. Stimac’s possession-based style necessitates the use of more midfielders, which is understandable. The absence of Mumbai City’s Rowllin Borges, who despite a great ISL campaign, was unable to defeat Stimac, is noticeable.
Bipin Singh and Pronay Halder were left out of the Nepal-friendly team for the SAFF Championship. The disappearance of Bipin is the most noticeable.
Brandon Fernandes is the most probable of the midfielders to start all of the games. Fernandes is India’s most creative outlet, and his outstanding set-piece delivery makes him a critical member of the team. Brandon will be crucial in breaking down Indian defenses and feeding the forwards.
Glan Martins continues to be India’s most reliable center midfielder. The FC Goa player is an important element of the team because of his strong activity levels and inclination to break up play. Who will play beside him, however, remains to be seen. Suresh Singh is a favorite of Stimac’s, and he frequently teams him up with Martins to form a dynamic midfield partnership.
Singh’s inexperience and enthusiastic attitude, on the other hand, have occasionally produced problems. Anirudh Thapa is one of the team’s most inventive midfielders. In these games, India needs to score goals, and the Chennaiyin FC player has the cutting edge to be involved in the scoring.
Lalengmawia, Jeakson Singh, and Sahal Abdul Samad will all be vying for a starting spot. Keeping Apulia out will be difficult due to his calm demeanor and good technique. Jeakson can also fill in as a solid defensive midfielder on occasion. Sahal’s adept nature and ingenuity provide the Blue Tigers another attacking option.
Udanta Singh, Liston Colaco, and Mohammed Yasir are among the wingers who have been chosen. This year, Udanta is going through a difficult period and must perform admirably when given the chance. Colaco’s dribbling abilities and unpredictable temperament make him an important member of the team, while Yasir is expected to be a late-game replacement.
For the SAFF Championship, Stimac has decided to remain with four forwards: Rahim Ali, Sunil Chhetri, Farukh Choudhary, and Manvir Singh. Despite his heroics for FC Goa in the ISL last season, Ishan Pandita does not appear to have regained his place in the team.
The majority of the games will be started by Chhetri. If India can pull off massive wins in their first few games and secure a spot in the final, he may only be rested in the later rounds. Manvir Singh, likely on the right-wing, should also be a starter for India. He’ll try to create chances from that side, as well as cut in for more shots on goal.
Ali may find himself in a front two with India’s skipper – or even just behind him. Expect Rahim to see more game time in the SAFF Championship due to his physicality, strong link-up play, and finishing ability.
Choudhary should play in a few games as well, although he’ll most likely be used as a replacement when India needs a goal. Choudhary should play on the wing, but if he can get among the goals, he could earn a starting spot in the tournament.