Five Indian youngsters who can have a big impact on Hero Intercontinental Cup 2019
Igor Stimac's first test at home in charge of the Indian national team awaits as the Blue Tigers take to the field against Tajikistan in the Hero Intercontinental Cup opener on Sunday. In his first tournament at the helm, the Croatian led India to a third-place finish at the 2019 King’s Cup in Thailand and, earning widespread plaudits for both his team selection and style of play.
The 51-year-old handed out debuts to several players, some of whom he surely expects to become the stakeholders of his ideas going forward. Some of the older players also rose to the occasion, giving a good account of themselves, making the Croat's first venture an overall successful endeavour. However, with India going into the Hero Intercontinental Cup as the reigning champions, there will be a lot more at stake for both Stimac and the team.
With the litmus test fast approaching, we take stock of five young guns who can light up the four-nation tournament in the blue jersey.
1. Amarjit Singh Kiyam
Ever since he captained the U-17 team at the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2017, Amarjit has seen his reputation skyrocket with more and more fans growing aware of his limitless ability both on the ball and off it. The 18-year-old was brilliant when he came on for his debut in the match against Curacao, plugging holes in midfield and driving forward when in possession, exhibiting the traits of a genuine box-to-box midfielder. In his first start against Thailand in the third-place King’s Cup encounter days later, Amarjit gave further testament of his maturity and talent, leading to encouraging words from the head coach at the post-match conference. The midfielder will be keen to keep up his upward trajectory in the 2019 Hero Intercontinental Cup, where he could be one of the first names on the team sheet.
2. Anirudh Thapa
The Chennaiyin FC midfielder endured a torrid Hero ISL season last term but has been scintillating over the past few months. The 21-year-old was the focal point for Chennaiyin during their run to the Hero Super Cup 2019 final and their AFC Cup campaign and stamped his authority in midfield. His form carried over to the national team during the King's Cup. He didn't have any part to play in the first match against Curacao, but once given the opportunity against Thailand, he delivered a Man of the Match performance. Thapa not only scored the decisive winner but also contributed heavily all over the pitch. Stimac’s possession-based style seems to suit Thapa's technical abilities to the T and expect to see a lot more from him in the coming years.
3. Sahal Abdul Samad
Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) 2018-19’s Emerging Player of the Year Sahal Abdul Samad is the name on everyone’s lips right now. The stylish midfielder was probably the only positive from an otherwise forgettable campaign for the Blasters in last season's Hero ISL. Samad displayed real guile and commendable skills in all the 17 matches he played last term, rightfully earning himself a maiden India call-up in Stimac's King’s Cup squad. The 22-year-old started against Curacao and put on an impressive performance, showcasing his ability to shine on the grandest stage. His close ball control and ability to glide through opponent defenders is a treat for the eyes and a handy tool in Stimac's armoury.
4. Brandon Fernandes
Brandon was yet another player who caught everyone's eyes during India's King's Cup campaign. Along with the above three, Brandon, too, was handed his India debut during the competition and one might argue it has been a long time coming for the 24-year-old. Primarily a winger, Brandon operated largely as a central midfielder during the King's Cup and despite playing in a very new role, he excelled, showcasing excellent passing range. Individuals who can switch plays instantly from the middle of the park has been missing from the Indian team for a long time and if Brandon can adapt to the role, he can be an asset for the Blue Tigers not only during the Hero Intercontinental Cup but for years to come.
5. Udanta Singh
Udanta has been at the forefront of Indian football for some time now and it is easy to forget that he is still just 23. The winger was brilliant in Bengaluru’s title-winning campaign, contributing with five goals and three assists. He also exercised exclusive rights over the right-wing position under former head coach Stephen Constantine and along with Sunil Chhetri, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and Sandesh Jhingan, was considered one of the undroppables. However, with Stimac making it clear that every player will have to earn his position under him, Udanta will have a point to prove, maybe more so than others. The pacey winger didn't quite do justice to his abilities during the King's Cup and had a very quiet tournament. With a host of new players coming through and veteran players like Jackichand Singh, who did brilliantly for FC Goa as a right sided attacker last season, waiting for an opportunity, the onus will be on Udanta to prove his worth. Everyone knows what he is capable of when on song and having a point to prove will only mean that the youngster will go into the Hero Intercontinental Cup all guns blazing.
Who do you think will have the biggest impact?
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