India will start 2024 with the AFC Asian Cup which will be played in Qatar from January 11. India’s campaign will start two days later when it faces Australia at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium in Doha.
While India’s head coach has not declared his 23-man squad for the tournament, he has indicated that some players, from the team which lost to Qatar in the FIFA World Cup 2026 qualifiers may not make it.
On the other hand, there has been some indication for certain players, namely Suresh Singh, Lalenmawia Ralte and Subhasish Bose, who, according to Stimac, have confirmed their spot for the Asian Cup.
With hardly 50 days left for the tournament, Sportstar looks at the players who could make it to the final squad, according to the positions:
Goalkeepers: Gurpreet Singh, Amrinder Singh, Vishal Kaith
Bengaluru FC goalkeeper Gurpreet will continue to be the No. 1 for the Blue Tigers, with Amrinder Singh as his deputy. Despite conceding three goals against Qatar, Stimac had lauded Amrinder, with the Odisha FC goalie making two saves in that match.
Vishal Kaith has been instrumental in helping Mohun Bagan Super Giant win the Indian Super League (ISL) and the Durand Cup. However, despite winning the Golden Glove, he is expected to remain third in contention for the spot between the sticks.
Centre-backs: Anwar Ali, Sandesh Jhingan, Rahul Bheke, Mehtab Singh, Lalchungnunga
India’s most consistent centre-back pair has been Anwar and Jhingan, with the former currently nursing an ankle injury. Rahul Bheke, Mumbai City’s captain has stepped up in his absence helping India maintain a clean sheet against Kuwait.
Mehtab and Lalchungnunga are both first-team regulars in their respective ISL clubs, Mumbai City and East Bengal, respectively, and the latter also impressed at the Asian Games. The two will only add to the bench strength in Qatar.
Full-backs: Akash Mishra, Nikhil Poojary, Roshan Singh Naorem, Subhasish Bose
The former Hyderabad FC pair of Mishra and Poojary have been the preferred combination for Stimac in 2023 but Subhasish – the captain of Mohun Bagan Super Giant – is expected to put up a strong challenge for the spots.
“He’s (Subhasish) been working so hard the last year and I felt sorry, to be honest, watching him but not being able to move Akash from the position and give him the chance. Today was a great opportunity to give him a chance to confirm his position for the Asian Cup, and he did it,” Stimac had said after the match against Qatar.
He had also mentioned that Bheke would also be used as a right-back if needed but Pritam Kotal will have to play as a full-back at his club – Kotal plays as a centre-back at Kerala Blasters – to earn his spot back in the national team.
Midfielders: Jeakson Singh, Suresh Singh, Lalengmawia Ralte, Sahal Abdul Samad, Mahesh Singh Naorem, Brandon Fernandes
India’s most important midfielder in recent tournaments has been Jeakson Singh until a shoulder injury ruled him out of the FIFA World Cup qualifiers. Now, that his surgery is done, he is expected to walk back into the squad right away, playing as a defensive midfielder.
The spots for Suresh and Lalengmawia, on the other hand, were directly confirmed by Stimac.
In attack, Mahesh and Sahal have been the go-to men for creating attacks. Both of them have looked comfortable in the 4-2-3-1 as well as 4-4-2 formation and the flexibility will add to their case of making to the 23-member team.
Brandon, with his exploits through free-kicks and set-pieces, is expected to be employed as a dead-ball specialist, mostly from the bench.
Forwards: Sunil Chhetri, Ishan Pandita, Rahim Ali, Laillianzuala Chhangte, Manvir Singh, Rahul KP
Stimac preferred Chhetri as the sole striker for the longest time. And the other two on either side are usually wide forwards.
As a result, Chhangte, Manvir and Rahul will all be in contention for the wide positions while one of Rahim and Ishan will travel as the deputy for Chhetri. Ashique Kuruniyan and Udanta Singh will be expected to miss out, with the former ruled out with an anterior cruciate ligament tear while the latter failing to impress Stimac in the game against Qatar.
Expected 23-man India squad for Asian Cup
Predicted Starting XI
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