India found their way to another final after sealing a win against Vanuatu in their second match of the Hero Intercontinental Cup 2023 at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar on Tuesday.

While captain Sunil Chhetri’s goal and celebration – that fired India to the final – stole the limelight, defender Sandesh Jhingan had silently reached a landmark occasion for the Blue Tigers.

The 29-year-old marked his 50th appearance for the men in blue in the game against Vanuatu and led the side to a clean sheet victory. From being a young aspirant rooting for gametime in national colours to becoming India’s leader at the back, Jhingan has carried the weight of India’s defence on his shoulders and has emerged as one of the best defenders of this generation.

As the towering defender embarks onto another set of appearances for India, we revisit some of his best moments in the national colours.

Dependable Debut

After several bouts and trials on the domestic stage in the first as well as second division of Indian football, Jhingan picked himself up after facing rejections early on in his career. A street footballer, as he likes to call himself, Jhingan found his breakthrough with the Chandigarh U19 team in the Dr. BC Roy Trophy that earned him a place in the Indian national junior camp.

Having made it to the bench in the 2013 SAFF Championship, the defender had to wait for a couple of years before making his debut under Stephen Constantine-coached India. Lined up alongside Pritam Kotal, Arnab Mondal, and Saumik Dey in the backline, Jhingan’s first-ever appearance came in the 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifier’s game against Nepal in 2015. Forming a strong alliance with his fellow defenders for the first time, Jhingan marked his debut appearance with a clean sheet victory, with India winning the game 2-0.

Defensive prowess in Asian Cup Qualifiers and Hero Intercontinental Cup success

Holding the backline and making headway, Jhingan’s leadership skills caught Constantine’s eye, leading the Englishman to make him a mainstay in the Blue Tigers’ defence in the 2019 Asian Cup Qualifiers in 2016. The youngster groomed himself playing alongside several other experienced campaigners in the team.

Apart from his defensive solidity, the Chandigarh-born player also chipped in with a goal against Laos in the first round of qualifying, burying a header from a free-kick as India put past six goals against the East Asian team. His consistent upswing in performances was also one of the main reasons for the Blue Tigers’ triumph in the inaugural Hero Intercontinental Cup in 2018. One of the key central defenders in the team, India marched onto the title with three victories and one loss whilst keeping three clean sheets.

European tryst

After an injury-plagued spell that left him on the sidelines for the entirety of 2019-20 season, Jhingan was conferred with the prestigious Arjuna Award in the subsequent year followed by the AIFF Men’s Player of the Year Award for exceptional performances domestically and internationally. This was then followed by a move to Europe as Jhingan became the fifth player to sign for a European club – Croatian side HNK Sibenik – after Bhaichung Bhutia, Sunil Chhetri, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, and Subrata Paul. However, this European tryst of Jhingan had a premature ending due to a major injury that saw him make a return in India.

Reporting back to national duty after multiple injury niggles, Jhingan became stronger than ever before, being one of the very first names on the team sheet. Having moulded himself into a vehement personality at the back, Jhingan’s eminence and repertoire of being consistently excellent over the years has been extremely vital in India's lead-up to several international tournaments. Most recently being the 2023 AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers in 2022. Be it last-ditch tackles, scrappy clearances, vital interceptions, or progressive passes into the middle third, the 29-year-old has shown the ability to develop his potential beyond just his defensive attributes.