Jhingan and more last-minute addition to Asian Games team

The confusion regarding the team was accentuated when the sports ministry released its final approved list of Asian Games athletes on Friday morning.
Indian center-back Sandesh Jhingan. (Photo | Twitter)
Indian center-back Sandesh Jhingan. (Photo | Twitter)

BENGALURU: Earlier this week, the New Zealand cricket board grabbed a lot of attention with their World Cup team announcement - the players were announced by their respective spouses or kids. The All India Football Federation though seems to have come up with an even more innovative way to announce a team. By repeatedly changing the announcement. Hopefully, now things will settle down and focus will be on the games in hand.

The AIFF first announced a team for the Asian Games on August 1, presumably the squad that coach Igor Stimac wanted. Then, on Thursday, they announced a completely new 17-member squad, retaining only nine players from the original squad. Just three hours later, they amended that squad, adding Deepak Tangri's name to it. Then on Friday night, with just hours left for the deadline to submit a final squad, they added Sandesh Jhingan, Chinglensana Singh and Lalchungnunga to the list. But even that's not final. If Naorem Mahesh Singh passes a medical, he too will head to Hangzhou. The clubs are now willing to release these players because some Indian Super League matches will get postponed.

The confusion regarding the team was accentuated when the sports ministry released its final approved list of Asian Games athletes on Friday morning. That list had 22 names including stars like Jhingan, goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and Suresh Singh Wangjam (both not part of the final list). The same ministry list said that six players were to be replaced — among them were goalkeeper Dheeraj Singh and forward Rohit Danu. However, in the final list, they both feature. Vishal Yadav, another goalkeeper was added late on Friday night, to make it a full 22-member squad from the 17 AIFF had announced a couple of days ago.

It's worth keeping in mind that India's first match against China is on Tuesday. For reference, South Korea, favourites for a third straight Asian Games gold, announced their final squad in mid-July and has already played a couple of preparatory friendlies with the Chinese Asian games team in China to get a feel of the conditions. And they had to negotiate with clubs from five different countries to get players released.

It's not as if the AIFF and the ISL clubs did not know the Asian Games was happening. While it is true that the government's policy to allow only teams in Asia's top eight cast doubt over India's participation in the Asiad, there is enough indications to suggest that the event was always in the AIFF's plans. AIFF president Kalyan Chaubey, while congratulating PT Usha on her election as IOA president, made reference to Asian Games participation. A calendar released by the AIFF in the beginning of the year, had time set aside for the Games.

The question then arises as to why AIFF did not work with the stakeholders earlier to avoid this mess. If FSDL could be persuaded to postpone ISL matches on Friday night, then they could have been persuaded one month earlier. If the South Korean federation can get clubs in Germany, France and Belgium to release players, the AIFF too should have persuaded their own clubs.

After the announcement on Friday, coach Igor Stimac, whose presence in China had been considered a doubt until then, tried to strike an upbeat note. "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," he said. "I'm thankful to FSDL and AIFF for making it happen. Whoever represents India, together we will be honoured to defend the flag."

Japan is now in a position to beat top European teams because they announced a 100-year plan in the 1990s and stuck to it. India, meanwhile, is struggling to finalise plans for a tournament that starts in five days. Every four years, the entire country sits up and asks 'why can't a nation of 1.5 billion people qualify for the World Cup?'. Well, this is why!

The team
Goalkeepers: Gurmeet Singh, Dheeraj Singh Moirangthem, Vishal Yadav
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

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