Indian Football: Predicting Igor Stimac's first XI as Indian head coach
A new chapter in India football begins in Thailand on June 5 as Igor Stimac makes his debut as the Indian national team head coach. After Stephen Constantine's departure earlier this year, AIFF took months scrutinizing the numerous applications they received for the position. Finally, the Croatian manager was appointed ahead of prominent names like Albert Roca.
Igor Stimac has a tough challenge to begin with, against Curacao in the King's Cup. The national camp began with 37 players, including all recent stars in both India leagues. However, in two weeks, the squad was trimmed to the final 23-men flying to Thailand.
The fans would be eager to witness Stimac's style of play as Constantine's defensive tactics were widely criticized over the years. The new coach is expected to field a more attacking lineup with a midfield-centred game. Resolving the lapses in defense would be a task he will have to deal with. Being a new face in Indian football, he might face difficulties in finding the right combinations and picking an apt XI.
Here, we predict the first XI Igor Stimac is likely to field as India's head coach.
Goalkeeper - Gurpreet Singh Sandhu
There would be no doubts on this spot in the lineup. Gurpreet is expected to start under the bars if Stimac doesn't go for any risky chances. The 27-year-old impressed in the national colours in the AFC Asian Cup earlier this year. Gurpreet had a crucial role in Bengaluru FC's ISL victory too.
Defenders - Rahul Bheke, Sandesh Jhingan, Subhasish Bose
Rahul Bheke will finally appear on the right flank of the defense line. Being one among the three defenders, the natural right-back might be restricted from going ahead through the wing. However, his experience of playing as a centre-back for Bengaluru FC occasionally is sure to help him. This might grab him a place in the first XI.
Sandesh Jhingan, without doubt, will be the pillar before the custodian. The Kerala Blasters player will be in charge of leading the defensive line and will have important duties on his shoulder.
Subhasish Bose is expected to start on the left side of the defense. The 23-year-old is a left-footer and usually plays as a left-back. With the remaining two defenders in the squad being right-footed players, Bose has already secured the spot.
Midfielders - Udanta Singh, Pronay Halder, Anirudh Thapa, Lallianzuala Chhangte, Sahal Abdul Samad (Attacking)
A squad consisting of 11 midfielders clearly indicates the coach's intentions.
Udanta Singh and Lallianzualla Chhangte are likely to be seen as the two wing-backs. While Udanta will feature on the right, Chhangte is expected to be seen on the left wing. With only 3 defenders lined up, both of them will have crucial roles of contributing equally in attack and defense. The good pace of these players will help the team in counter-attacks through the wings.
The central midfield will consist of Pronay Halder and Anirudh Thapa. Halder might be appointed as a defensive-midfielder while Thapa will be free to roam around. But still, Thapa too will have to meet his defensive objectives in the absence of Chhangte in the wings. Pronay Halder's good physique and aggressive playing nature will be a boost to the defense.
Sahal Abdul Samad will be fielded in one of India's most key positions. He will have the duty of creating space for the strikers and act as a link between the central midfielders and the attackers. The Kerala boy's passing accuracy will be a lethal weapon in the attack. He also has a well-praised quality of creating defense-splitting passes and dangerous through balls. Sahal's recent good form too will be an aid for him in making his senior team debut.
Forwards - Sunil Chhetri and Manvir Singh
Sunil Chhetri will be the team's sharp-shooting point at the attacking end. The skipper will take up the important goal-scoring duty as he has been doing for years. Chhetri's ability to run behind the defenders and find space is sure to impress Stimac. This seals his place in the lineup too.
The second striker has been the most-debated position in the whole squad. Dropping Jobby Justin surprised many as the former East Bengal striker was in excellent form in the I-League. Out of the three remaining strikers, Manvir Singh is the most probable pick. Though Balwant Singh holds more experience, Manvir enjoys an upper hand due to his fitness. With a 34-year-old Chhetri on the other end, Stimac will opt for a younger leg to keep the defence busy.