The Indian football team has run into an unexpected hurdle ahead of the two international friendly matches they are scheduled to play in Bahrain. Seven of the 25 players named for the two matches are still in Mumbai, waiting for their visas, a day before they team is to play the hosts at the Madinet Hamad Stadium in Hamad Town.
“We faced some difficulties in our travel. The first bunch of players are here, but we’re still facing some problems with seven players still in Mumbai. We’re still waiting for the visas which we applied for two months ago,” head coach Igor Stimac said at a press conference on Tuesday.
“Hopefully till noon today they’ll get permission to fly and join the team tonight. Otherwise, we cannot be optimistic that these players will be involved in the game, which makes things difficult.”
The seven players still waiting their visas are goalkeeper Amrinder Singh, defenders Akash Mishra and Chinglensana Singh, and midfielders Anirudh Thapa, Aniket Jadhav, Bipin Singh and Brandon Fernandes.
This was the Indian team’s first set of international matches since they won the 2021 SAFF Championship in Maldives in October last year. And the two matches – against Bahrain and Belarus – was expected to give Stimac an understanding about where the team stands as preparation begins for the AFC Asian Cup third round qualifiers, that take place in June in Kolkata.
However, the Croatian is now pondering what team he will field since seven players are still missing.
“To be honest, in such circumstances I don’t know what I’m going to try because I have to see how many players I’m going to have here at the end of the day, and then try to manage to put the best 11 in the team and try a few things,” he said.
“This ISL season has been extremely exciting, we’ve seen some new faces, some new players which is optimistic for us. I’m going to give a chance to those boys to see how they can do at the international level against stronger opposition. And if we can count on them for the upcoming qualifiers.”
The one player however, that the coach has no doubt about is Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, the first-choice goalkeeper.
“The goalkeeping position is very important and for such important international games we stick with our No 1, which is Gurpreet. Never mind that he didn’t have a very successful season, either with the club or on a personal level. But he’s been training for the last 11 days with the goalkeeping coach to bring him back to his best form. One position I’m trying to keep very stable but also very competitive, don’t get me wrong, is the goalkeeping position,” the coach said.
“Gurpreet is, by me and our staff, the best goalkeeper we have in the country. I’m not in favour of changing this position often or without any need. We don’t have many games, and this position I’m always trying to keep stable.”
Sandhu and veteran defender Sandesh Jhingan are the two players expected to lead the team in the absence of regular captain Sunil Chhetri, who is recovering from injury.