A look at who can make it into Stimac’s Hero Intercontinental Cup squad

Igor Stimac’s home debut as head coach of the Indian national team edges ever so close with the 35-man squad continuing its preparation for the Hero Intercontinental Cup in Mumbai. The Croat has been drilling his tactics in the players for a good while now and will be hoping to see the rewards when the Blue Tigers step out to play their first match on July 7.

In his first tournament in charge of the team at the 2019 King’s Cup, the 51-year-old gave a slight glimpse into his plans for the future of the national team. Reorienting his philosophy, which in his previous managerial stints revolved around a compact shape and low defensive line, Stimac let the talented Indian attackers lose, in order to achieve a more attractive brand of football.

To some extent, his tactics did work, although the superior quality of the opposition turned the result of the tie in their favour. Nonetheless, the likes of Brandon Fernandes, Sahal Abdul Samad, Amarjit Singh and Raynier Fernandes put in outstanding performances and showed real willingness to get on the ball and make things happen. They were brave, inventive and disciplined in a highly fluid midfield and as a result, can be considered as an automatic pick for the Hero Intercontinental Cup.

The Croat’s insistence on a high defensive line to back up the high pressing caught some of the Indian defenders off guard, given their lack of familiarity with the role. That can, however, be perfected with time and practice, and Stimac will be making sure it happens sooner rather than later.

Sandesh Jhingan, the returning Anas Edathodika, Rahul Bheke, Adil Khan and Salam Ranjan Singh will all be expected to start attacks by receiving the ball off Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and passing it around until space opens up. It was a feature of the way the team operated at the King’s Cup, with the full-backs coming into play should the centre-halves fail to nullify the opposition press.

Subhasish Bose, Pritam Kotal and Nishu Kumar are all decent at it but will need to show a bit more attacking intent and guile to suppress the opposition’s tactics. The midfield trio of Rowllin Borges, Pronay Halder and Vinit Rai are good options to have when holding onto a lead and in the final quarter of a match. Udanta Singh, Michael Soosairaj, Lallianzuala Chhangte and Jackichand Singh on the other hand, are match winners on their day and Stimac will need that in tight affairs where formations no longer work. Udanta, in particular, seemed a little off his usual best during the King’s Cup and will be eager to show Stimac exactly why he is so highly rated in the upcoming tournament.

Stimac’s 35-man provisional squad also includes some new faces who didn’t feature during the King’s Cup. The likes of Ashish Kuruniyan and Mandar Rao Dessai have featured in the India setup before, with the former giving a good account of himself during the AFC Asian Cup in Qatar. His physicality and direct style will open up a lot of tactical options for Stimac, if he chooses so. Nikhil Poojary is a traditional winger, who can help add some natural width to the system. Defenders Narender Gehlot and Sarthak Golui have been part of the Indian youth setup and have the ability to step up if called upon, much like how Amarjit during the King’s Cup.

Up front, Stimac has very little to worry about. Captain Sunil Chhetri is sensational in whatever team, formation or coach he plays under, with goals a guaranteed commodity and work rate second to none. Meanwhile, Jobby Justin is a different type of a forward, who still has a lot to learn and prove at the highest level. Balwant Singh, Manvir Singh and Farukh Choudhary fall under the more conventional striker model and can become lethal options, particularly late in matches.

Which players do you think deserve to be in the final squad? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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