The All India Football Federation announced a 22-member squad for the men’s football event at the 2023 Asian Games in Hangzhou, China. Led by coach Igor Stimac, India captain Sunil Chhetri, goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and defender Sandhesh Jhinghan will be the three overage players in the squad.
Other than the senior trio, several other senior national team members including Mahesh Naorem Singh, Jeakson Singh Thounaojam, Anwar Ali, Akash Mishra and Rahim Ali were named. All these players were also part of the squad that had recently won the Intercontinental Cup and SAFF Championship in June and July.
Although men’s football at the Asian Games is an Under-23 event, like at the Olympics, teams are allowed to field a maximum of three overage players in their squads. Furthermore, because the Hangzhou Games were postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the organisers have allowed those who are 24 years old to participate, with the cut off date of birth being fixed at January 1, 1999 – allowing for the inclusion of Mahesh Singh who is currently 24 years old (born in March 1999).
India, ranked 99 in the world and 18 in Asia, have been drawn in the same group as China (world No 80), Myanmar (ranked 160) and SAFF Championship semi-finalists Bangladesh, ranked world No 189. Although the men have won the gold medal at the Asian Games twice (in 1951 and 1962), after the rules changed to allow only U-23 players, India’s best finish has been reaching the Round of 16 stage at the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games.
Both the men’s and women’s teams will be participating in the Asian Games after missing out on the 2018 edition in Jakarta, Indonesia. Earlier, the Indian sports ministry had not approved of the decision to send the football teams to the tournament as the teams didn’t fit their criteria having “a ranking up to eighth among participating countries of Asia”. But after a public appeal from Stimac, the Indian Olympic Association and ministry soon reversed their decision.
As reported by PTI, the squad has also received the approval of the Asian Games squad and the Olympic Council of Asia.