Asian Games: Tired and depleted Indian football team take on China in opener

India coach Igor Stimac tweeted late on Monday night stating that the team arrived at the hotel in Hangzhou half hour past midnight.
Indian football team. (Photo | Igor Stimac, Twitter)
Indian football team. (Photo | Igor Stimac, Twitter)

CHENNAI: No training time. Long lay-over during travel to Hangzhou. There seems to be no end to the unfortunate adventures of the Indian football team for the Asian Games. The last-minute changes to the team — the result of the tussle between the All India Football Federation, the Indian Super League and its clubs — meant that the list of players had to be altered time and again before settling on the final 22. This delay meant that travel had to be delayed. India left for China on Sunday evening, that too in batches. Their first match against China on Tuesday evening may not even feature the full squad.

India coach Igor Stimac tweeted late on Monday night stating that the team arrived at the hotel in Hangzhou half hour past midnight. "After an extremely long journey, we reached our hotel here in China at half past midnight. Time to rest and see if the team can recover for tomorrow's game," his tweet read. Stimac had already said that the China match will be challenging and they would rather concentrate on the next match against lower-ranked Bangladesh on September 21 and then against Myanmar on September 24. He also said that senior players like Sunil Chhetri and Sandesh Jhingan may not be in the scheme of things for the China match. What might alter those plans would be the unavailability of five players on Tuesday.

The two late inclusions — defenders Konsam Chinglensana Singh and Lalchungnunga – were not in the long list and did not have accreditation, so had to apply for Chinese visas separately. They are expected to leave on Monday night. Mumbai FC’s Gurkirat Singh, who started on the bench on Monday against Nassaji Mazandaran in AFC Cup, is expected to leave on Tuesday; while two other players from a different club are scheduled to leave on Wednesday. That means two players may not feature in the match against Bangladesh either. By the time India play against Myanmar, India are expected to have a full squad.

The late decision to add a few names meant the team was finalised only on Saturday – three days before the first game against China. The AIFF had assured the sports ministry and the Sports Authority of India that they would send the best team to the Asian Games. Their plans hit an unwarranted roadblock when they were forced to name an under-strength team early last week. The SAI and the ministry apparently were not amused. The Ministry released the final list of approved athletes late on Friday and it had the names that Igor Stimac had originally named, but the clubs refused to release. That showed the negotiations were on to get the best possible side. In the end, everyone compromised with clubs releasing some players and the league postponing a couple of fixtures Something that could have been sorted out long ago was left to the last minute that too for a team that needs a session or two if training together as a team.

What seemed baffling is the AIFF and the ISL, who could have agreed to release players earlier than on Saturday, took so long to finalise the team. In the end the players will suffer. They are expected to take the field against China in Group A without training and acclimatisation. They are flying to a time zone that is ahead of India and the biological clock usually takes time to adjust. In contrast, the women’s cricket and hockey teams arrived in China well ahead of their first matches and will get the time to prepare and acclimatise. The boxing team left well in advance (first week of September) to train and compete for the Games. All other teams are reaching Hangzhou well ahead of their fixtures.

The sports ministry, who made an exception to allow the football teams to participate at the Asiad, will be observing how this adventure pans out.

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