The All India Football Federation (AIFF) on Friday said that senior defender Sandesh Jhingan will be joining the Indian squad for the upcoming Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, arriving at a consensus amid the club versus country conundrum.
Veteran striker Sunil Chhetri will be spearheading the Indian challenge and besides his longtime teammate Jhingan, he will also be able to avail the services of Chinglensana Singh and Lalchungnunga as AIFF added the duo in the squad.
India head coach Igor Stimac, who has been urging the Indian Super League (ISL) clubs to release their players for national duty, said, “It’s a wonderful development that some experienced players have been added to the Asian Games squad, who will certainly help the cause of the team.
“I’m thankful to FSDL (ISL organisers) and AIFF for making it happen. Whoever represents India, together we will be honoured to defend the flag.”
The AIFF will conduct a medical test of Naorem Mahesh Singh before taking a decision to include him in the squad, the national federation said in a press release.
Speaking on the development, AIFF president Kalyan Chaubey said, “It is indeed a positive development on the eve of the Asian Games as the reliable pair of Sunil Chhetri and Sandesh Jhingan will be manning two key positions in the Indian attack and defence, respectively, for the continental games.
“We are further happy that some more experienced footballers are there in the squad to strengthen our campaign.”
Earlier this week, the Indian team’s preparations for the upcoming Games were dealt a massive blow, with the ISL clubs refusing to release many key national team players for the continental event.
Thirteen players from the original 22-member squad, which was announced last month, were not released by their respective clubs. The players not released included Jhingan and first-choice goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu.
However, the AIFF was able to resolve the issue after hectic parleys.
The 39-year-old Chhetri, who has created seemingly unsurmountable national records in his 18-year-long international career, was the first to raise his hand as he decided to lead the team after many clubs refused to release their players.
Football competition in the Asian Games is an under-23 affair with three over-aged players permitted per team.
This will be Chhetri’s third Asian Games, the first being the 2006 edition as a 22-year-old under English coach Bob Houghton. The team was led by Bhaichung Bhutia, who was included as one the over-aged players. India drew with Hong Kong (1-1), beat Maldives (2-1) and lost to Iran (0-2) to crash out in the group stage.
In the 2014 edition in Incheon, Korea, Chhetri captained India after being included as one of the above-23 age players. India again ended their campaign in the group stage after losing to UAE (0-5) and Jordan (0-2).
Chaubey said that he is thankful to FSDL for standing up to the need of the hour and help the cause of the national team by agreeing to reschedule some matches of the Indian Super League, which is supposed to start from September 21.
He also thanked all stakeholders of the AIFF for the cooperation in solving the impasse that was created over the release of players and overlapping of dates.
Indian men’s squad for the Asian Games:
Goalkeepers: Gurmeet Singh, Dheeraj Singh Moirangthem.
Defenders: Sumit Rathi, Narender Gahlot, Deepak Tangri, Sandesh Jhingan, Chinglensana Singh, Lalchungnunga.
Midfielders: Amarjit Singh Kiyam, Samuel James Lyngdoh, Rahul KP, Abdul Rabeeh, Ayush Dev Chhetri, Bryce Miranda, Azfar Noorani, Vincy Barretto.
Forwards: Sunil Chhetri, Rahim Ali, Rohit Danu, Gurkirat Singh, Aniket Jadhav.
Head coach: Igor Stimac.