Vijayan: 'Asian Games is right stage, right time for India'

"For India to become a World Cup qualifier, the national team needs to compete at the regional level first," according to the former India captain.

The Olympic Games is also restricted to the U-23 age group, with three players over 23, termed as wildcards, allowed to take part.   -  AP

India head coach, Stephen Constantine, known for giving international debuts to younger players after assessing their abilities at the senior level, firmly believes India should be competing in the Jakarta Asian Games 2018.

Fifteen players on the Indian senior team fall in the U-22 age category and with the Asian Games restricted to U-23 teams, he is confident of younger Indians standing up to competition from rival Asian nations.

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Former India captain, I.M. Vijayan, present at the Mumbai Football Arena for the Intercontinental Cup final, endorses the coach’s faith in the U-22 players. "Wherever I go, football followers and the media ask me why India finds it difficult to qualify for the FIFA World Cup.

"For India to become a World Cup qualifier, the national team needs to compete at the regional level first. The Asian Games is the right stage at the right time to know where we stand."

The Olympic Games is also restricted to the U-23 age group, with three players over 23, termed as wildcards, allowed to take part. The Asian Games also follows the same eligibility rules. Vijayan observed: “India can field a cracking team when three established players over 23 are added. The team is in form for a long time now and the seniors have beaten nations higher ranked than us in tournaments and FIFA friendlies.”

READ: Rathore: 'India has potential to play in FIFA World Cup soon'

Goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh (26) -  who has also represented Norwegian Tippeligaen club Stabaek FC -, current captain Sunil Chhetri (33), in-form defenders Sandesh Jhingan (24), Anas Edathodiaka (31) and sensational striker Jeje Lalpekhlua (27) are all above 23 and contenders for the three spots in the Asian Games playing squad.

Current internationals in the U-23 category are Udanta Singh, Ashique Kuruniyan, Jerry Lalrinzuala, Anirudh Thapa, Subashish Bose, Salam Singh, Vishal Kaith to name a few.

Each one of these players, seniors or U-23, excelled in the Indian Super League 2018 under different foreign coaches and different teams. Under Constantine’s charge, the senior Indian team’s qualification for the AFC Asian Cup next year will pit the blue jerseys against the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Thailand in the group stage in Dubai. UAE is ranked higher (77th) in the FIFA list than 97-ranked India.

READ: No confirmation regarding Asian Games, reveals Constantine

Vijayan made two trips to MFA during the Intercontinental Cup. He presented Chhetri with a memento before the latter’s 100th international cup. Incidentally, he is also the government observer for football and is tasked with keeping the government informed about any developments related to the sport.