Preview: Blue Tigers look to maintain their spectacular record against Nepal

Image credit: IndianFootball@Twitter

The Indian national team under Igor Stimac returns to action on Thursday as they take on neighbours Nepal in the first of a two-friendly match-up at the Dasharath Stadium in Kathmandu.

The Blue Tigers last appeared in the 2022 FIFA World Cup and 2023 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers in Doha in June earlier this year where they lost to Qatar, beat Bangladesh and drew against Afghanistan.

India are playing in the 2021 SAFF Championship next month in the Maldives and they will look at these two games as big opportunities to get some quality practice ahead of the five-team tournament.

The Indian team recently had a two-week preparatory camp in Kolkata where Stimac raised concerns regarding the fitness of players having not played any competitive games since the qualifiers.

However, eight players out of India’s 25-member squad for the Nepal friendlies recently featured in the AFC Cup Group D South Zone for ATK Mohun Bagan – who eventually advanced to the next round after topping the group -- and Bengaluru FC. These are Amrinder Singh, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Pritam Kotal, Subhasish Bose, Suresh Wangjam, Liston Colaco, Manvir Singh and Sunil Chhetri, and the presence of these battle-hardened players in the team will give Stimac a lot of hope.

“Every game is crucial, especially from the senior team’s point of view. We are going to use these two games to standardise the first XI, to get more attention on the 14-15 players who will be in charge of the national team in future,” Stimac recently said.

“The boys are all ready for 45 minutes, and we need to be careful going into the next two games against Nepal. We understand that the ATK Mohun Bagan and BFC players will be in better shape than others for two matches against Nepal,” the Croatian said during the preparatory camp last week.

FC Goa defender Seriton Fernandes and Chennaiyin FC striker Rahim Ali are the only new faces in the Indian squad. It will be interesting to see how much game time these two as well as Liston Colaco, Akash Mishra, Jeakson Singh, Lalengmawia, Bipin Singh, Mohammed Yasir, Glan Martins, Suresh Wangjam and Chinglensana Singh – all made their India debut earlier this year -- get in these two encounters.

“This is an excellent opportunity for us to improve as a team. Given the current circumstances, it wasn’t easy to get a friendly game,” quoted Chhetri as saying ahead of the game.

“The Nepal federation and government invited us to play, and we thank them for the opportunity and the gesture.

“Nepal are a very tough side, especially when they play against us, and we are aware of the extreme challenge the two matches present us,” Chhetri, who has scored five goals against Nepal, added.

When all is said and done, India will go into the contest fancying themselves having won 13, lost two and drawn 4 games against the Himalayan nation in the past. The last time these two teams played each other was in June 2017 at the Mumbai Football Arena when Sandesh Jhingan and Jeje Lalpekhlua scored to lead the Blue Tigers to a 2-0 win. However, despite their spectacular record, they won’t take the Nepal team, under Abdullah Almutairi, lightly, who have quality players like defender Rohit Chand and goalkeeper Kiran Kumar Limbu in their ranks. The hosts have not beaten India since 2013 which indicates there will be no lack of motivation for them heading into the game. 

India Squad:

Goalkeepers: Amrinder Singh, Dheeraj Singh, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu.

Defenders: Pritam Kotal, Chinglensana Singh, Mandar Rao Dessai, Akash Mishra, Rahul Bheke, Subhasish Bose, Seriton Fernandes.

Midfielders: Lalengmawia, Bipin Singh, Anirudh Thapa, Sahal Abdul Samad, Brandon Fernandes, Liston Colaco, Mohammed Yasir, Glan Martins, Suresh Wangjam, Jeakson Singh, Pronay Halder.

Forwards: Manvir Singh, Rahim Ali, Sunil Chhetri, Farukh Choudhary.

Kick-off time: 05:15 pm (IST)

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