FIFA WCQ: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu relies on bench strength to make up for Jhingan’s absence

India goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu

India goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu is confident that squad players will rise to the occasion and make up for Sandesh Jhingan’s absence, when the team faces Bangladesh in a World Cup qualifier at the Salt Lake Stadium on Tuesday. The former Stabæk – a Norwegian club – ‘keeper credited India coach Igor Stimac for creating a pool of young players.

“I think the coach has been very smart from the start that he has brought in a mixture of young players so that we have those options and competitiveness in every single position. And we will have players coming in for his (Jhingan) position (centre-half). It’s something we didn’t want. We won’t have his experience, but we have players who can fill the slot,” Gurpreet said, as the Indian team arrived in Kolkata after a 10-day camp in Guwahati.

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Jhingan suffered an Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) tear on his left knee during a practice game against Northeast United. It might require surgery. India, though, are fresh from an inspiring performance in a Group E qualifier at Doha, where they held Qatar, the reigning Asian champions and 2022 World Cup hosts, to a goalless draw. In their first game, India fought well but went down 2-1 to Oman. Bangladesh, ranked 187th in the Fifa rankings, will be the best opportunity for India (ranked 104) to secure their first win in the qualifiers.

Gurpreet, however, preferred to be cautious. “They (Bangladesh) are a good team and play with the heart and make it tough for other teams as well. So it’s not an easy game,” he said, adding: “They made it really difficult for Qatar. So we just need to make sure that we don’t make mistakes and go out on the pitch and play to our strengths.”

Meeting with AFC on leagues

New Delhi: A roadmap of the country’s domestic football structure will be discussed in a meeting of the I-League and Indian Super League clubs with the officials of the AIFF and the Asian Football Confederation in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Monday.

The All India Football Federation has invited the clubs of the country’s two domestic leagues to a meeting at AFC headquarters in Kuala Lumpur to discuss the future of the game in the country. The officials of FSDL, the organisers of the ISL, will also be present in the meeting.

The national federation, in consultation with the AFC, is expected to present a “roadmap” for the future of Indian club football as there is still no clarity regarding which league — out of I-League and ISL — will be the top tier competition in the country. In June, the AIFF announced that the ISL would take over from the I-League India’s AFC Champions League qualifier slot from 2019-20. This effectively means the ISL takes over as India’s top-tier football league.

I-League clubs have protested and asked for the introduction of promotion and relegation to allow them take part in the ISL. Officials of Kolkata clubs Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and ATK as well as Minerva Punjab owner Ranjit Bajaj have reached the Malaysian capital for the meeting. East Bengal will be represented by Executive Committee member Saikat Ganguly.

“We will wait and watch. We definitely hope that AFC is thinking of betterment of Indian football. We hope to get some answers in this perspective,” East Bengal senior official Debabrata Sarkar said. “We are hoping for the best from the AFC and we strongly believe in their policies and principles as long as AFC follows their own constitution. We are expecting a structured roadmap for the betterment of football in India,” said Bajaj. —PTI

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