ISL 10: Lack of game time for India players worry for Igor Stimac | Football News - Hindustan Times
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ISL 10: Lack of game time for India players worry for Igor Stimac

Mar 05, 2024 10:24 PM IST

Sandesh Jhingan and Ashqiue Kuruniyan are injured for this month’s World Cup qualifiers against Afghanistan.

There are nine matches left before ISL10 pauses for the World Cup qualifiers against Afghanistan on March 21 (in Saudi Arabia) and March 26 (Guwahati). As the race for the league shield and the battle for a spot in the top-six play-offs heats up, what will worry India head coach Igor Stimac is that a number of national team players, including a club captain, are not getting enough minutes.

India coach Igor Stimac reacts during a game(REUTERS)
India coach Igor Stimac reacts during a game(REUTERS)

No one from among Anirudh Thapa, Lalengmawia Ralte (Apuiah), Sahal Abdul Samad, Brandon Fernandes, Udanta Singh and Pritam Kotal has completed a game in the last two rounds. That’s looking at a sextet with 223 internationals between them with Thapa and Kotal having played 53 and 52 games for India respectively. Add to that Sandesh Jhingan needing anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) reconstruction and Ashique Kuruniyan being ruled out due to injury and Stimac could be looking at 11 who are either unavailable or not being trusted by club coaches.

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Thapa, Mohun Bagan Super Giant’s big-ticket midfield signing in 23-24, has not played a full match in the last six rounds. That is since coach Antonio Lopez Habas took over with the Kolkata derby on February 3. In Mohun Bagan Super Giant’s last three games, Thapa was an unused substitute against NorthEast United, played the last five minutes against Odisha FC and 30 minutes away to Jamshedpur FC.

Thapa has one goal and two tackles in those games, as per ISL’s website. In a post-match television interview, Habas has spoken of having options in central midfield where he has used newbie Abhishek Suryavanshi.

Brandon Fernandes, the FC Goa skipper, has no ISL goal in 892 minutes spread over 11 matches. He didn’t make the squad against Mumbai City FC and Kerala Blasters, FC Goa’s last two games. Fernandes’ teammate Udanta Singh has started one of the club’s last six games, being used as a late substitute in the rest.

After four full games, Ralte was not in the squad for Mumbai City FC’s last two rounds. Wide right Rahul KP has not lasted a full game in the five Kerala Blasters have played since the Asian Cup campaign ended on January 23. He was not in the squad in one and played six minutes in their last game, against Bengaluru FC.

With Jeakson Singh being eased in after shoulder surgery by Kerala Blasters, Stimac could have a problem in the midfield where Sahal Abdul Samad picked up an injury and missed Mohun Bagan’s match against Jamshedpur FC. Samad has one goal in 862 minutes spread over 11 games.

Given the lack of time and players’ familiarity with the national team’s training and fitness drills, head coaches tend to persist with those who lose their starting berths at clubs. Having said last November that he would look at new players only after they maintain their form for one season, will Stimac change his mind?

Will the Croat, who is scheduled to fly to Kolkata on Wednesday and release the probables’ list this week, look at Jamshedpur FC’s Imran Khan because the 29-year-old player’s shots from range have got noticed along with two goals and as many assists? And at Odisha FC’s 22-year-old midfielder Isak Vanlalruatfela who has two goals and three assists from 18 games. Right-back Kotal having lost his place at Kerala Blasters could also mean an opportunity for another Odisha FC player, 25-year-old Amey Ranawade.

After an away win to Kuwait (1-0) and a home defeat to Qatar (0-3), India are third in the group. The top two will qualify for the third round of the qualifiers and the 2027 Asian Cup. India have never made the third round in a World Cup qualifying cycle.

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