Forty-eight hours later, the national team coach will have reinforcements with the arrival of three new players but it’s unlikely that any of them will have a major role to play for the crucial tie against Bangladesh on Thursday.
Odisha FC’s Narender Gahlot and Aniket Jadhav left for China after their AFC Cup clash on Wednesday, but will reach Hangzhou on the morning of the match. Mumbai City striker Gurkirat Singh was expected earlier but the youngster missed the connecting flight from Hong Kong.
Now, besides the new arrivals, it will be tough for Stimac to count on at least three players who played the opening game. According to sources, Sumit Rathi, Lalchungnunga and Bryce Miranda were down with cramps after the China encounter and have now been classified as “injury high risk”, if they play on Thursday.
“India were allotted a 90-minute training slot, but, given the circumstances, the pitch session was cancelled since it was found unnecessary to drive two hours to training and back,” a senior team official told TOI. “Instead the team had a recovery session in the hotel itself.”
Stimac wouldn’t be able to take a call on his starting 11 until he checks the fitness of the players in the morning. Among the new players, Chinglensana Singh – one of the three seniors – should be a good option, but the injury to Amarjit Singh, one of just two midfielders in the team, should be a big cause for worry as there are no replacements available.
Deepak Tangri was one option, but he isn’t fit enough. Stimac then called for Jeakson Singh, but with Kerala Blasters already releasing two players and drawn to play the Indian Super League (ISL) opener against Bengaluru FC at home on Thursday, the request wasn’t considered. “We lost against China, but I want to look at the brighter side,” said experienced defender Sandesh Jhingan.
“There were some good actions within the game. In the 45 minutes when we had the right energy in the team, I think there wasn’t much difference between the sides.”
There should be a gulf of difference between India and Bangladesh, their opponents for Thursday in a must-win game.
A win will help India bounce back and stake their claim for a spot in the pre-querterfinals with Myanmar to tackle in the last group stage clash. The top two teams in each group will secure themselves a spot in the knockouts. They will be joined by four best third-placed teams.