SAG football: India looks to regain gold

According to Lee Johnson, who is in charge of the national team here, India will hold its supremacy in the region and regain the top spot it had lost to Bangladesh in the previous edition held in Dhaka in 2010.

Lee Johnson... “In international football, you cannot take any team lightly. The players need to stay focused."   -  THE HINDU

India, drawing inspiration from the recent success in the SAFF Cup, hopes to regain the men’s gold medal in football in the South Asian Games. India takes on Sri Lanka in the first match here on Saturday, aiming to book a semi-final berth in the competition.

Lee Johnson, the India under-19 developmental coach who is in charge of the national team here, feels India will hold its supremacy in the region and regain the top spot it had lost to Bangladesh in the previous edition held in Dhaka in 2010.

The All India Football Federation announced the final squad of 20 from which the teams will selected for the matches in the tournament. With the first list of probables announced barely three days ago, there was nothing by way of preparations as the greater part of the time was spent in travelling and assembling at the venue. Brushing aside this shortcoming, Johnson said the team has enough in it to best the current level of competition. The team is mainly composed of youth players (under-23) and there are also a few who are from the under-19 squad training under the Englishman.

“The boys want to capitalise on the recent success of the senior team that won the SAFF Cup recently. Some of them were part of the triumph, and there are also some who have played for the senior team in the recent past,” Johnson said.

The team will have the likes of striker Holicharan Narzary, midfielder Lallianzuala Changte and defenders Pritam Kotal and Narayan Das from the SAFF Cup-winning team. They will also form the core of Johnson’s plans. There are others like the versatile Sandesh Jinghan and midfielder Jayesh Rane and Rowlin Borges, who have considerable ISL and I-League experience and will add to the strength of the young side.

Johnson insisted on staying focused, which would be the key to India winning the gold. He said the opponents are unknown entities and India needs to give its best each time to get the right results.

“In international football, you cannot take any team lightly. The players need to stay focused. The weather here is so much conducive for football,” Johnson said ahead of his team’s first match against Sri Lanka.

India plays Maldives next in the three-team group before the knock-out stage starts.

Defending champion Bangladesh is in Group B along with Nepal and Bhutan. The absence Afghanistan – whom the Indian senior team beat to win the SAFF Cup –reduces the challenge for India considerably.

The Indian squad:

Goalkeepers: Kamaljit Singh, Rehenesh T.P., Laxmikant Kattimani.

Defenders: Bikramjit Singh, Pritam Kotal, Sandesh Jhingan, Salam Ranjan Singh, Kaushik Sarkar, Narayan Das, Samad Ali Mallick.

Midfielders: Vinit Rai, Lallianzuala Changte, Rowlin Borges, Jayesh Rane, Germanpreet Singh, Udanta Singh.

Forwards: Jerry Mawihmingthanga, Sumeet Passi, Amoes T, Holicharan Narzary.

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