India will restart its campaign to qualify for the 2023 AFC Asian Cup as it meets Cambodia at the Salt Lake Stadium, in Kolkata on Wednesday.
The Blue Tigers had failed to make it through the 2022 World Cup qualifiers, which doubled up as an initial qualification route for the continental tournament.
This season, the Indian Super League and I-League have provided Indian football with some exciting talents such as Hormipam Ruivah, Naorem Roshan Singh and Jiteshwor Singh.
With India playing lower-ranked teams (Cambodia, Hong Kong and Afghanistan) it is a good opportunity for some of these young talents to make their mark. Here are five young players in Stimac’s squad to watch out for in the qualifiers and in the longer run -
1. Liston Colaco - If there has been one player that has taken Indian football by the scruff in the last few years, it has been Liston Colaco. After bursting into the scene through FC Goa, Liston moved to Hyderabad, where he soon became the central figure.
He stood up to the hype, following his high-profile transfer to ATK Mohun Bagan, where he emerged as the Indian top scorer with eight goals and had four assists to boot.
The 23-year-old from Goa grabbed further eyeballs recently with a sizzling hat-trick in the AFC Cup against Basundhara Kings. With Sunil Chhetri walking into the dusk of his illustrious career, Liston could well be the talisman for Indian football in this decade.
2. Akash Mishra - An integral element of Hyderabad FC’s march towards the ISL title was its left-back, Akash Mishra. Last season he topped the ISL season chart for interceptions with 57. Solid in defence and with the ability to deliver pinpoint crosses from the flank, he provided Manuel Marquez’s side with impetus down the left flank.
The 20-year-old’s exploits in ISL, where he scored two goals and created another three, have helped him lock down the left-back position in the national team. Mishra, who hails from Balrampur in Uttar Pradesh, played the entirety of the Jordan friendly and seems set to be in for the long haul for the Blue Tigers.
3. Ishan Pandita - A true fox-in-the-box, 24-year-old Ishan Pandita has been on a mission to craft the skill of scoring late goals, with all three of his goals in this ISL season coming after the 85th minute. Having gained his football education in Spain, Ishan began his ISL journey with FC Goa before shifting to Jamshedpur FC, where he helped the Men of Steel in securing the League Winners Shield this season.
4. Sahal Abdul Samad - Sahal Abdul Samad had what was, without doubt, his best ISL season so far. He was the primary Indian attacker for Kerala Blasters head coach Ivan Vukumanovic and repaid the gaffer’s faith by delivering six goals and an assist in the league.
Though he has been in and around the national team for a while, he hasn’t yet cemented his spot. For a team that struggles creatively, a player of Sahal’s flair would be the right remedy.
5. Jeakson Singh - Kerala Blasters had a season to remember, with its attack linking seamlessly and its defence holding up tenaciously for most of the tournament. A crucial part of the team’s success was Jeakson Singh who held the team together from the central midfield.
Efficient with his passing and proficient in his defensive skills, this 20-year-old hailing from Manipur has promise. Though he didn’t start against Jordan, he can expect to be in the scheme of things in the near future.
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