The dust refuses to settle around India's football squad selection for the Asian Games 2023, even though the Blue Tigers are scheduled to take on hosts China in their opener in five days. The Union Sports Ministry also seems to have entered the scene, already made murky by the reluctance by ISL clubs to release India's top footballers for the quadrennial event over clashing dates and coach Igor Stimac's displeasure over the AIFF decision to send a second-tier team for the event.
The ministry, on September 14, Thursday, released a revised 22-member squad that had names including India's seasoned campaigners Sandesh Jhingan and Gurpreet Singh Sandhu who were excluded by the AIFF in their list on September 14. Upcoming goalkeeper Dheeraj Singh and seven others—Sumit Rathi, Deepak Tangri, Amarjit Singh Kiyam, Bryce Miranda, Azfar Noorani, Rohit Danu and Gurkirat Singh—were replaced in the ministry's list.
Liston Colaco, Anwar Ali, Vishal Yadav, Akash Mishra, Vikram Partap Singh, Mahesh Singh Naorem, Vikram Partap Singh, Lalchungnunga, Jeakson Singh and Suresh Singh Wangjam were the other additions in the ministry's list. Most of these names were part of the initial squad announced by the AIFF on August 1 before coming out with a clearly weakened squad yesterday. With the likes of Jhingan and Anwar Ali out, the football body's revised list raised a few eyebrows as it had just three defenders in all.
The announcement had further implications as national head coach Stimac, who had earlier said that the Asian Games was a priority, reportedly hinted that he was not eager to accompany a second-tier team to Hangzhou. It was a public plea by Stimac that made the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) make an exception for the football teams even though neither Indian men nor women were among the top 8 in the continent.
While the ministry's list adds some much-needed firepower to the depleted Indian squad, confusion remains about which list among the two is ultimate and whether the ISL clubs will release the players. Since the Asian Games do not fall in the FIFA international match window, the clubs are not obliged to let the players go. It remains to be seen if they fall in line following the entry of the ministry into the matter.
Meanwhile, East Bengal's head coach Carles Cuadrat told the media, "We have respect for the national team and have sent them a list of players they can use. The clubs and federation (AIFF) must cooperate to do the best for the country,"
The sports ministry's decision was not officially communicated to them, ISL club FC Goa told The Sportstar.
AIFF's revised squad:
Gurmeet Singh, Dheeraj Singh Moirangthem, Sumit Rathi, Narender Gahlot, Deepak Tangri, Amarjit Singh Kiyam, Samuel James, Rahul KP, Abdul Rabeeh Anjukandan, Ayushh Dev Chhetri, Bryce Miranda, Azfar Noorani, Rahim Ali, Vincy Bareto, Sunil Chhetri, Rohit Danu, Gurkirat Singh, Aniket Jadhav.
Sports ministry's squad:
Anwar Ali, Gurmeet Singh, Vishal Yadav, Narender Gahlot, Rahim Ali, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Ayushh Dev Chhetri, Sandesh Jhingan, Aniket Anil Jadhav, Rahul KP, Amarjit Singh Kiyam, Akash Mishra, Liston Colaco, Sunil Chhetri, Mahesh Singh Naorem, Abdul Rabeeh Anjukandan, Samuel James Lyngdoh Kynshi, Vincy Barreto, Vikram Partap Singh, Lalchungnunga, Jeakson Singh Thounaojam, Suresh Singh Wangjam.