Stimac looks to make most of ‘crucial’ time with Qatar and Tajikistan matches on the horizon

With the Indian national football team set to take centre stage again after the conclusion of the Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) 2019-20 on March 14, the Blue Tigers head coach, Igor Stimac, on Thursday, announced a 18-day long national camp involving 43 different players. The camp will be held with an eye on the upcoming FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 qualifier against Qatar, which is scheduled to be played in Bhubaneswar, Odisha on March 26, 2019. India will also be on the road to play an international friendly match against Tajikistan on March 31, 2020.

The expansive preparatory camp has been carefully crafted with the Hero ISL 2019-20 semi-finals and final in mind. While 23 members have been called up for the first phase of the camp in Bhubaneswar on March 9, 20 other players from four Hero ISL 2019-20 semi-finalists will join the camp on March 16, after the final concludes on March 14. Expanding on the same, Stimac, in an interview with the official All India Football Federation (AIFF) website, said, "Time is very crucial for us. We have planned to utilise the maximum time possible, so we want to see as many players as possible before the Qatar match. As some players won't be able to join the camp because of their club commitments before the 16th, we'll use this time to assess other players."

The 43-member preliminary squad involves Sandesh Jhingan and Jeje Lalpekhlua – two players who missed the entire season owing to injuries. Speaking on the return of the two experienced campaigners, the Croat noted, “Sandesh (Jhingan) and Jeje (Lalpekhlua) have been longstanding servers of Indian National Team and I strongly believe in their abilities. I have been updated about their current medical status and we'll monitor them closely in Bhubaneswar too.”

The camp will also include several first-timers like Jeakson Singh, Sumit Rathi, Edwyn Vanspaul, Shubham Sarangi, Lalengmawia and others, who caught Stimac’s eyes with some stellar performances during the Hero ISL season. Kerala Blasters FC midfielder Jeakson, who scored for India in the FIFA U17 World Cup back in 2017, was delighted with the opportunity and stated, “It's a dream-come-true for me to get a call-up from Senior Team camp. Scoring the goal against Colombia (in the U17 World Cup) is something that I shall always cherish but now I want to prove myself here. Sharing the dressing room with ones who I've always looked up to, is going to be a remarkable experience for me.”

On the upcoming international friendly against Tajikistan, which was announced on Thursday, the Blue Tigers head coach remarked, “Tajikistan are a respectable side in Asia and we're looking forward to a tough challenge from them. That is going to be a great opportunity for us to assess ourselves ahead of our final two qualifiers in June. It would be interesting to find out how much we advanced our game from our last encounter in Hero Intercontinental Cup.”

Ranked 121st in the current FIFA Rankings, Tajikistan were one of India’s opponents in the Hero Intercontinental Cup 2019 conducted at the EKA Arena in Ahmedabad, Gujarat.

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