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India v Kyrgyz Republic: Stephen Constantine’s men now have greater strength in depth

India’s football coach Stephen Constantine is pleased with how settled and full of options his squad is ahead of what is seen as a key AFC Asian Cup qualifier vs. Kyrgyz Republic.

football Updated: Jun 13, 2017 16:29 IST
India national football team,Kyrgyz Republic football team,India vs Kyrgyz Republic
Indian Football chief coach Stephen Constantine is pleased with his squad depth ahead of India’s AFC Asian Cup qualifier vs. Kyrgyz Republic. (PTI)

Bangalore: India’s’s Asian Cup football qualifier against Kyrgyz Republic here on Tuesday is a chance for players to add some permanence to their spots in the senior team’s line-up.

“We have competition for all the places which is healthy,” India coach Stephen Constantine said here on Monday. His comment comes a day after I-League’s best defender Anas Edathodika said no one is immune to berth pangs.

Proof of that came in Arnab Mondal, a certainty in central defence till injury in ISL 3, getting a few minutes in the 2-0 win against Nepal last Tuesday. Only goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, who plays in Norway, Sunil Chhetri, arguably the best outfield player of his generation, and right-back Pritam Kotal can be deemed certainties in this squad.

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In India’s starting line-up against Nepal in Mumbai, none apart from Kotal, central defender Sandesh Jhingan and striker Robin Singh retained berths from the team that drew 0-0 away against the same opponents on March 17, 2015. That result, following a 2-0 win at home, helped Constantine start his second stint with a win. As substitutes, Mondal and central midfielder Eugeneson Lyngdoh made it five players who featured in both games separated by over two years.

30 debutants

Between then and now, Constantine has given debuts to 30 players and India, after exiting from the World Cup qualifiers, reached a 21-year high of 100 in the Fifa rankings. They go into this group A tie on the back of seven straight wins.

So, even as he continues to look at players, Constantine is building a squad for the future, one whose average age is around 24. Should India qualify for the 2019 Asian Cup, he would want this group to have adequate international experience. To that end, the home game against Kyrgyz Republic would be an important step.

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Among the 24 players here, barring right-back, most positions seem to have adequate options. Mondal and Fulganco Cardozo can step in for Jhingan and Edathodika and young Jerry Lalrinzuala has shown enough promise to keep Narayan Das on his toes as left-back, a slot where Nishu Kumar and Subhasish Bose are also seen as future prospects. Neither Bose nor Kumar are here.

Midfield options

Even though Pronay Haldar’s injured, Mohammed Rafique’s solid performance last Tuesday could give Constantine a selection headache in central midfield where Lyngdoh and Rowlin Borges seem preferred options. Given that Bikash Jairu helped India forget an ordinary first half last week, he could start but Jackiechand Singh and Seityasen Singh are not much behind in the pecking order. Add the injured Udanta Singh to the mix and it would make a competent bunch of wide right midfielders.

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When available, Chhetri has made the wide left or a frontliner’s position his own and young Daniel Lalhimpuia showed against Nepal that he can supplant Robin or Jeje Lalpekhlua.

“I think we have more or less a settled squad now. It has taken over two years to get there. At the moment, we have two or in some cases three-player depth in some positions. That was the whole point of building the squad from scratch,” said Constantine.

First Published: Jun 12, 2017 19:57 IST