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Indian football team camp for Asian Cup qualifiers to begin on 24 April

Manama: The Indian football team will have a six-week national camp from 24 April before the final round of Asian Cup qualifiers, to be held in Kolkata from 8 June.

India will play Hong Kong, Afghanistan and Cambodia from 8 to 14 June in Group D matches to be played at the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata. The winners of the six groups and five best second-placed teams across groups will make it to the Asian Cup in China in 2023. The matches of the six groups will be held in different countries.

“Our next camp starts on 24 April and within two weeks we are going to isolate the players and do testings to ensure that there are no injuries,” head coach Igor Stimac said during a virtual press conference ahead of the international friendly match against Bahrain here on Wednesday.

“35 players will selected and tested and then 28 players will be picked for the upcoming Asian Cup qualifiers. We will have more than six weeks of preparation before the Asian Cup qualifiers.”

Explaining the team’s preparations, he said, “After a few weeks of training, we will play friendly matches. We are playing a total three international friendlies and there is negotiations going on (about the opponents).

“The plan is to have the last international friendly in the last week of May, that is 8-10 days before the qualifiers. These (matches) may be in played either in Kolkata or Doha in Qatar, we have to decide.”

Talismanic striker Sunil Chhetri has been ruled out of the international friendlies against Bahrain (on Tuesday) and Belarus (on Saturday) due to an injury, and Stimac said it is the best time for the younger ones to prove themselves.

“We have Manvir, Liston and Rahim as strikers in place of Sunil. But the whole team should replace him. I expect these players to take up more responsibility and create more chances as Sunil is not here with us,” he stated.

“They should now forget about Sunil at this moment. He will join us for the upcoming matches (for the qualifiers).”

The head coach also said that number one goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu will be persisted with despite him not having a great Indian Super League season with Bengaluru FC.

“The goalkeeper’s position is very important for such international matches and we will stick with our goalkeeper number one, who is Gurpreet Singh, never mind he did not have a very successful ISL season,” Stimac said.

“He has been training with our goalkeeping coach in the last 10-12 days and we are trying to bring him to his best. One position I am trying to keep very stable is that of the goalkeeper. He is the best goalkeeper we have in the country.

“I am not favouring change in this position often and without any need or reason. We don’t have many games and this position I am trying to keep stable.”

Stimac indicated he will continue to experiment with new faces in other positions.

“The just-concluded ISL season was extremely exciting and we have seen some new faces doing well in the ISL which has given us optimism. I am going to give chance to those boys and check how they can do at the international level against stronger opposition and check them for the upcoming (Asian Cup) qualifiers.”

India had lost to Bahrain in their last meeting during the 2019 Asian Cup under Stephen Constantine, a result which denied the country a historic knock-out round berth. Bahrain had scored from a penalty in the injury stoppage time to beat India 1-0.

Talking about that match, Stimac said, “That is not something I want to see tomorrow, I want my team to go out with great attitude, brave, play attacking football.

“We are going to concentrate on middle pressure, high press football throughout, we are going to take risks and use the ball more and not defending.”

Three Mumbai City FC players, including Bipin Singh and Rahul Bheke, will be released from the squad to prepare for their ISL side’s AFC Champions League campaign. Thus, only 22 players will be available for the Belarus match on Saturday.

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