Young goalkeeper Moirangthem Dheeraj Singh got his maiden call-up into the national team after head coach Igor Stimac included him in the 26-member squad for the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying matches against Afghanistan and Oman later this month.
India will play against Afghanistan at the neutral venue of Dushanbe, the capital city of Tajikistan, on November 14 in the first-leg match, while the Blue Tigers take on Oman in Muscat on November 19 for the second-leg tie.
India had lost to Oman 1-2 in the home-leg in Guwahati on September 5.
Dheeraj, whose performance under the woodwork during the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup in India earned him accolades, is the third player after skipper Amarjit Singh and defender Anwar Ali from that squad, to get a call in the senior team camp.
“Dheeraj is a player for the future. We have always trusted our youngsters and they have also shown their prowess on the pitch. Our first choice goalkeepers are Gurpreet and Amrinder and we have seen Kamaljit and Vishal too. Now we would like to see Dheeraj closely as he belongs to those we should rely on in the future,” Stimac said.
He said it was “not an easy task” to shortlist the players “given the healthy competition” in the team.
“I trust them and they know their responsibilities. After watching the league matches since they started, we have shortlisted these players. Some players who are not on the list also performed highly and came very close to getting selected,” Stimac said.
“It's not going to be an easy task to select only a few players, given the healthy competition we have in each position. This is a good headache for us.”
Talismanic captian Sunil Chhetri said back-to-back away fixtures “is not going to be easy” for the team.
“It's not going to be easy with the travelling involved. But, we are professionals and we know how to take care of our bodies. How we travel, what we eat, how much we sleep is going to be very important,” Chhetri said.
Defender Pritam Kotal said, “You can't complain about these because they are an integral part of modern-day football. Proper rest, diet and recovery are of utmost importance which needs to be taken care of.”
Stimac's men occupy the third spot in Group E after managing two points in three games―from draws against Bangladesh (1-1) and Asian champions Qatar (0-0).
Goalkeepers: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Amrinder Singh, Dheeraj Singh Moirangthem.
Defenders: Pritam Kotal, Nishu Kumar, Rahul Bheke, Anas Edathodika, Narender, Adil Khan, Sarthak Golui, Subhasish Bose, Mandar Rao Dessai.
Midfileders: Udanta Singh, Jackichand Singh, Seiminlen Doungel, Raynier Fernandes, Vinit Rai, Sahal Abdul Samad, Pronay Halder, Anirudh Thapa, Lallianzuala Chhangte, Brandon Fernandes, Ashique Kuruniyan.
Forwards: Sunil Chhetri, Farukh Choudhary, Manvir Singh.