How forwards picked in India’s squad for Oman and UAE friendlies fared in Hero ISL 2020-21
The 2020-21 Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) turned out to be the making of a great many unfancied local strikers. While seasoned-striker Sunil Chhetri continued impressing and topped the list of Indian players with most goals (8), it was actually a bunch of relatively inexperienced Indian forwards that made waves big time as they grabbed the opportunity with both hands and competed neck-and-neck with the foreign imports in their respective teams.
India is now all set for two international friendlies later this month and in the absence of Chhetri, who tested positive for COVID-19 a few days ago, national team coach Igor Stimac has chosen a group of young forwards for those matches in Dubai -- against Oman and the United Arab Emirates on March 25 and March 29 respectively. Here, we run our eyes over the performances of these promising forwards in the recently concluded Hero ISL season.
Moving from FC Goa to ATK Mohun Bagan in search of more game time paid dividends for Manvir Singh, who was among the best Indian forwards this season and scored a couple of really breath-taking goals. The 25-year-old striker scored six goals in all for the Mariners and provided three assists. Manvir found the back of the net at the most crucial moments for his side and even scored the winner against NorthEast United FC in the second leg of their Semi-final tie and helped them advance. After attacking from the wings as he played second fiddle to Roy Krishna and David Williams, it will be interesting to see if Stimac plays him in a similar position or has fresh ideas in the absence of Chhetri.
22-year-old Ishan Pandita had a memorable debut season in the Hero ISL with FC Goa and his exploits off the bench have earned him a place in the national team – a maiden call-up. Pandita clocked just 131 minutes in 11 substitute appearances for the Gaurs but scored four goals during those minutes. All his goals helped FC Goa to earn important points as they went on to finish fourth on the league table. Pandita’s pace and his ability to find the right spaces in the attacking third will make him a valuable asset for the national team and might also be the answer to their perennial goal-scoring woes.
Another young gun who has been called up to the national team for the first time after a stellar campaign with his club is Liston Colaco. He is one of six Hyderabad FC players to have made the cut, and Colaco can thank his increased game time on the pitch for his improved performances. The 22-year-old forward played 947 minutes and scored two goals (a late match-winning brace against NorthEast United FC and both goals were a sight to behold) and assisted three for the Telangana-based club through the course of the season as Manuel Marquez’s team missed the semis by a whisker. Blessed with quick feet and an abundance of pace, Colaco now has a big chance to shine in India colours and make the country proud.