The Indian football team was dealt a huge blow just days before they could leave for their international friendly against Jordan on November 17 when the All India Football Federation (AIFF) confirmed that the team would miss the services of their talisman Sunil Chhetri to an ankle injury. The statement from the national FA confirmed that Chhetri had sustained the injury during the Indian Super League tie between Bengaluru FC and Kerala Blasters.
To understand the gravity of this blow, a look at the team’s recent history is enough. Since 2017, India has played a total of 19 matches, this includes the AFC Asian Cup qualifiers, SAFF Championships and the friendlies.
Of the 19, they have won 13, drew three and lost the other three, and in these games, Chhetri has been their only regular goalscorer, having scored 13 goals in nine of these games. So, it was no surprise that head coach Stephen Constantine cut a sorry figure while addressing the media a day before they could leave for Amman.
“Sunil (Chhetri) missing for the clash against Jordan is a big blow for us,” he said. “He is a great player and has been fantastic for us in the last four years. He is one of those players that is irreplaceable, but somebody has to take his place for the match against Jordan. Sunil is no spring chicken.”
On the positive side, however small that might be, Chhetri missing this game provides a few in the side with an opportunity to step up make up for the lost ground.
While in recent years Chhetri has had the support of the likes of Jeje Lalpekhluah and Balwant Singh, neither has shown the quality to be a leader of the Indian attacking unit.
Jeje in jeopardy
For a long time, Jeje has been the second-best attacker in the country after Chhetri, and for good reason too. The Mizo-born is quick on his feet, has a great understanding of the game and anticipates the moves well to get into goal scoring positions more often than not. But unfortunately, Jeje has seemed off colour so far this season.
After the high of winning the ISL with his club Chennaiyin FC, the Mizo has failed to produce similar performances this season, something that has cost him his place in the starting XI.
But with the dearth in quality strikers that India faces today, Constantine has been left with no choice but to call up Jeje for the Jordan game. And if he wishes, this can prove to be the turning point of his season, if not his career.
Balwant means business
He might be senior to the Mizo, but it’s only of late that Balwant Singh has flourished as a somewhat reliable force for the national side. While Chhetri has been the primary force in the attack, Balwant, for a while, has been the game changer, coming off the bench to chip in with a goal or two when the chips are down.
But against Jordan, a lot more will be expected from the Hoshiarpur-born striker. Balwant has had a decent outing in the ISL so far. Though he has just one goal to show as exploits, Balwant has been a handful in drawing his team, ATK, into the attack. But against Jordan, he will have to do more.
The other fringe players
Apart from the aforementioned two, the team has travelled with Sumeet Passi and Manvir Singh as recognised strikers. While Passi has been a part for the national team set up for a while now, he’s barely shown any desire in being a permanent fixture in the side. On the other hand, Manvir is relatively new to the environment and any exposure can only go a long way in helping him improve.Published 15 Nov 2018, 23:07 IST