Even just a month before the Asian Games, when the All India Football Federation (AIFF) announced a strong squad for the tournament, it was hard to envisage the Indian men’s team’s chances of going all the way here in Hangzhou.
But with a ‘third or fourth choice’ team’ in his own words, head coach Igor Stimac has his task cut out to get the team out of the group stages and into the knockouts.
In the opening 1-5 defeat to China, Stimac had only 17 players – five players were yet to fly out to Hangzhou – to choose from, which included three goalkeepers.
And, among the five, only Narender Gahlot, Gurkirat Singh and Aniket Jadhav are expected to join the group in the early hours of the matchday.
Despite the depleted squad, India will be expected to overcome Bangladesh and Myanmar in its next two group outings, starting with a match against the former at the Xiaoshan Sports Centre stadium on Thursday.
Bangladesh suffered a 0-1 loss to Myanmar on the opening day.
Stimac will take positives from several new faces including Gurmeet Singh, Lalchungnunga, Ayush Dev Chhetri, Sumit Rathi, Bryce Miranda and Abdul Anjukandan experiencing international football on a big stage. While Gurmeet had five goals against his name, he could come away with some credit with the number of saves he made in the game, his debut for team India.
Winger Rahul KP scored a goal to pull India level at half-time for a team which was put together in the eleventh hour.
While the men’s team’s obstacles have taken up the headlines for much of the fortnight, the women’s team has quietly come into this competition, hoping to make an impact, for the right reasons.
The Blue Tigresses begin their campaign against Chinese Taipei at Wenzhou Olympic Sports Stadium later in the day. These two teams were slated to play each other in last year’s Asian Cup before COVID-19 ravaged the Indian squad, which led to it pulling out of the game and, eventually, the tournament.
The women’s tournament does not have an age limit and India comes in with the strongest possible squad. Manisha Kalyan, Indumathi Kathiresan, Jyoti Chauhan and Bala Devi, who are all stars in league football in both domestic and overseas leagues, will lead the charge for Thomas Dennerby’s team.
Quarterfinal outing for Mandhana and Co
The Indian women’s cricket team will have the favourites billing when it takes on Malaysia in the quarterfinal of the T20 tournament at the Pingfeng Campus Cricket Field.
As a result of its higher seeding, India will begin its campaign in the last eight stage. With Harmanpreet Kaur serving a two-match ban, Smriti Mandhana will step in to lead the side.
Mandhana will have plenty of international experience to rely upon with the likes of Deepti Sharma, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Shafali Verma, Jemimah Rodrigues, Pooja Vastrakar and Richa Ghosh to call upon.
The Asian Games also offers a chance for Minnu Mani, Anusha Bareddy, Kanika Ahuja and Titus Sadhu to push themselves into the reckoning with the senior national team setup.
Malaysia progressed to the quarterfinals by getting the better of Hong Kong in its only group game by a 22-run margin on Tuesday. After having posted 104 on the board, the Malaysians shot out Hong Kong for 82 with the help of five run-outs.