5 Key players who starred for India in the AFC Qualifiers
Indian national football team finished third in a Group E that contained the likes of Asian champions Qatar, Oman, Afghanistan, Bangladesh with India managing 7 points in 8 matches courtesy of a win, four draws, and three losses.
The only team Blue Tigers lost twice to was Oman who finished in second place with a 0-0 draw against Qatar still alive in most of the Indian football fans.
A solitary win against Bangladesh on June 7 powered the Blue Tigers above Afghanistan in the points tally and helped Stimac’s side qualify for the third qualifying round of the AFC Asian Cup 2023.
The 1-1 draw against Afghanistan on June 15 sealed the final places in Group E and the Afghans finished fourth in Group E because of the horror own goal conceded by Afghanistan goalkeeper Ovays Azizi.
Let’s have a look at the five key players that influenced the results in Group E of AFC joint qualifiers for Stimac’s men.
#5 Glan Martins
Despite playing only 3 of the 8 matches, Glan Martins has shown his exemplary skills as a defensive midfielder after winning numerous tackles and always being the first man to react to the second balls in his own half.
Martins and Suresh Singh did all the dirty work in the middle of the park to allow the attacking talents of Brandon Fernandes, Manvir Singh, and Sunil Chhetri to express themselves in the opposition half.
The rise of the Goan midfielder over the last 18 months should be documented someplace safe as the 26-year old has made the journey of playing in the Goa Profession League to the Indian Super League to the AFC Champions League, and finally helping his nation to qualify for the third qualifying round of the AFC Asian Cup 2023.
#4 Sandesh Jhingan
The former Kerala Blasters skipper and the current ATK Mohun Bagan captain Sandesh Jhingan stamped his authority as the leader of defense during the AFC joint qualifiers campaign.
The 27-year old central defender missed three qualifiers in October-November 2019 due to an injury and the Blue Tigers suffered badly drawing against Bangladesh and Afghanistan courtesy of injury-time goals instead of completely dominating their neighboring countries.
The presence of Jhingan in defense not only solidifies and tightens the backline but allows the midfielders to have more freedom to create chances rather than dropping back and helping the defense out.
#3 Gurpreet Singh Sandhu
With the constant change in formations and defenders ahead of him every couple of matches, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu has been an ever-present in the goal during the AFC joint qualifiers.
The 29-year old goalkeeper was the only player to start every match in the campaign and conceded only 7 goals in 8 matches to silence his doubters asking for Amrinder Singh to be drafted into the playing XI.
Sandhu is a true leader of the defense and the upcoming defenders like Asish Rai, Akash Mishra, Chinglensana Singh, Sarthak Golui, and Jeakson Singh would need the guidance of the Bengaluru goalkeeper.
#2 Brandon Fernandes
Brandon Fernandes was the shining light for India in the campaign as the creative midfielder’s deliveries from corners and free-kicks gifted the Blue Tigers with multiple opportunities to score.
In the first half of the campaign, all of India’s goals were assisted by the Goan No.10 and he was certainly the best player for the Indian team in the second half of the campaign in Qatar.
Stimac handed a free role to Fernandes allowing him to be the main creative force in the Indian line-up after seeing his impressive performances in the AFC Champions League against the world-class oppositions.
#1 Sunil Chhetri
After playing six fixtures in the campaign, Stimac’s team was struggling with only three points that came from a 0-0 draw and two injury-time goals from set-pieces.
The Indian football team needed someone to step up and it was ‘Captain Fantastic’ who scored 2 goals against Bangladesh and single-handedly won his team their only match in the whole campaign. Sunil Chhetri now has 74 international goals and is eyeing the 80-goal mark which will get him an entry into the ‘Top 5 international goalscorers of all time’ as of now.
The 36-year old might bow out of the international stage after taking part in the 2023 AFC Cup and the Blue Tigers would do their all to make it a memorable one for their skipper.