A headache that Constantine won’t mind having
The Indian team will get down to business when they begin their preparations for the AFC Asian Cup 2019 with the Hero Intercontinental Cup in June. With the likes of New Zealand, Kenya and Chinese Taipei involved in the four-nation competition, the Hero Intercontinental Cup will provide the Blue Tigers with a stern test as they build up to the biggest competition in their recent past.
Head coach Stephen Constantine too seems to have made his intentions clear by naming a competitive 30-man probable list for the competition. The squad is dominated by men from the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) and given the quality of the players at hand, the Englishman is undoubtedly going to have a tough time picking his strongest squad for the tournament. However, this tournament could serve as a vital opportunity for some of the players to show their worth and prove their mettle.
While Gurpreet Singh Sandhu still remains the undisputed No 1, Constantine could very well test his bench strength during the tournament. Mumbai City FC’s Amrinder Singh had a stellar 2017-18 season in the Hero ISL. The shot-stopper amassed a total of 55 saves throughout the campaign, the most by any goalkeeper in the league. Singh has only made one substitute appearance for India before, but the Intercontinental Cup could serve as his big break.
Vishal Kaith is another goalkeeper who enjoyed a fine season in the Hero ISL. The FC Pune City custodian produced 45 saves and seven clean sheets in the 2017-2018 campaign, a stark reminder of his goalkeeping prowess.
The Indian backline has produced some steady performances over the past few years. Though this can be largely attributed to the paring of Sandesh Jhingan and Anas Edathodika in the heart of the defence, the Hero Intercontinental Cup could see the duo of Subhasish Bose and Souvik Chakrabarti donning the Indian colours for the first time.
They have put in impressive performances during the recently concluded Hero ISL campaign. Bose was an integral part of the Bengaluru FC outfit that finished as runners-up. The young full-back was ever-present in Albert Roca’s side, playing a total of 18 games throughout the season.
Jamshedpur FC’s Chakrabarti could challenge the likes of Narayan Das and Pritam Kotal for a place in the starting line-up. Chakrabarti was a vital cog in Jamshedpur’s stingy backline that registered seven clean sheets this season. The 25-year old can prove to be a vital addition to Constantine’s defensive unit at the tournament.
Unlike the defence, the Indian midfield has seen constant changes. Rowlin Borges and Udanta Singh have been the only constants in the Constantine side. And things look no different this time either. While there’s barely anyone to challenge Udanta and Borges, the other spots could see some change at the Hero Intercontinental Cup.
Chennaiyin FC’s Anirudh Thapa and Dhanpal Ganesh have enjoyed some quality time on the field and were rightfully called up to the national team. Thapa was a revelation for the ISL Champions this season with his pace down the flanks. The 20-year old winger registered two goals and one assist during the campaign. Dhanpal, on the other hand, was one of the most reliable midfielders for the Chennai unit. His calmness and composure in the middle of the park could prove important for India.
FC Goa’s Pronay Halder is another option who could occupy the holding midfielder position. The 25-year old had one of his finest seasons yet, playing a pivotal role for FC Goa who made it to the semi-finals.
Unlike the midfield, the Indian forward line has barely seen any change for a long time. While the talismanic Sunil Chhetri continues to inspire the boys with breath-taking performances day in and day out, Jeje Lalpekhlua has proved to be a more than handy partner for the Indian skipper.
However, we could see some new faces serving as back-up options for the two established strikers. Veteran Balwant Singh has acted as third-choice striker in the past, making a total of four appearances for India. But the inclusion of FC Pune City’s Ashique Kuruniyan could mean a fight for the spot. The youngster had his moments for the Stallions and is more than capable of delivering the goods when called upon.
With the Hero ISL done and dusted, the Hero Intercontinental Cup serves as a huge opportunity for the players to showcase their skills for the national side and stake a claim for a spot in the final squad for the AFC Asian Cup. But how much will they impress their gaffer only time can tell.