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Sandhu, not ISL golden glove winner Gill, likely to start against Bahrain


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For such an important game, we should stick to our goalkeeper No. 1: India head coach Igor Stimac



Gurpreet Sandhu(AIFF)



Prabshsukhan Singh Gill may have won the golden glove in the Indian Super League (ISL) on Sunday but Gurpreet Singh Sandhu is likely to start in goal when India square off against Bahrain on Wednesday. 

“The goalkeeper’s position is extremely important and for such an important game, we should stick to our goalkeeper No. 1. He has been training with us for 10-11 days and we are trying to bring him back to his best. I am not in favour of change in this position,” said India head coach Igor Stimac on Tuesday. 

Sandhu had an ordinary ISL, managing three clean sheets in 15 games for Bengaluru FC; Gill had seven in 20 in his breakout season with Kerala Blasters. 

The squad travelled separately as seven players were, “still in Mumbai waiting for visas which we had applied nearly two months ago,” said Stimac at a virtual media conference from Bahrain. Later on Tuesday, All India Football Federation (AIFF) officials said all of them have been issued visas but, because of limited flights, won’t reach Bahrain before Wednesday.

ALSO READ: Following AFC on foreign players would be suicidal: Stimac

Goalkeeper Amrinder Singh, left-back Akash Mishra, central defender Chinglensana Singh, midfielders Anirudh Thapa, Brandon Williams, Aniket Jadhav and Bipin Singh were those stranded in Mumbai, said Stimac. Since Singh would have to be released for Mumbai City FC’s Champions League preparations after the game against Bahrain, Stimac has decided not to call him, a source in the team said from Bahrain. The India squad will have 24 players, the source said. 

Apart from Gill, Stimac has chosen six new players for the friendlies. They are: full back Roshan Singh, who won the ISL’s Emerging Player of the Year, central defenders Ruivah Hormipam and Anwar Ali, midfielders Jadhav and Danish Farooq, and forward VP Suhair. Mumbai City FC defender Rahul Bheke will be released after the game against Bahrain. 

The last time India played Bahrain was in the 2019 Asian Cup. Needing a draw to qualify for the round of 16, India lost 0-1 through Jamal Rashid’s penalty-kick in second-half stoppage time. “For every Indian that was heartbreaking,” said central defender Sandesh Jhingan who was also part of the interaction. “But that’s football. But honestly, we didn’t do enough. I know I could have done better.” India sat too deep in that game and Jhingan said, “sometimes that works and sometimes it does not.” 

That is not the approach India will take, said Stimac. “I want to see a positive attitude, see the team use the middle and high press and take certain risks to try and use then ball more.” Wednesday’s game is not about trying to even scores but getting better, said Jhingan. 

At 89, Bahrain are 15 slots above India (104) on the Fifa rankings list. They won their last two games, 3-1 against Uganda and 1-0 away to DR Congo, earlier this year. Belarus, whom India are scheduled to play on Saturday, are ranked 94th. 

Stimac said the idea of playing these friendlies, India’s first games since winning the SAFF Championship in October 2021, “is to check where we stand.” The pace will be different from ISL and a player like Liston Colaco will not get as much space, he said. “I have told him he can’t get too close to the defenders as he will then lose the ball.” 

Jhingan,28, has had a difficult season because of injuries. He signed for HNK Sibenik in Croatia but couldn’t play because of injury and returned to ATK Mohun Bagan in January. Asked how far he was from the level of the 2019 World Cup and Asian Cup qualifier against Qatar which ended 0-0 in Doha, Jhingan said: “We will see tomorrow. But I don’t want to be the Sandesh Jhingan of that year. I want to be a better version of that.” To that Stimac added: “He is a better player everyday. His communication skills are excellent; he is super positive and was one of the best passers in the ISL. The Sandesh Jhingan of today is better than what he was in Qatar.”

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