Head Coach Igor Stimac names a 26-member squad of India heading to Qatar for the AFC Asian Cup 2023. This will be the fifth appearance for the Blue Tigers in the tournament with the squad due to arrive in Doha later on the day. India, placed in Group B, will begin their campaign with a huge game against Australia on January 13, 2024, at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan. Uzbekistan and Syria are the other opposition Stimac’s side will face in the group.
As usual, there have been some surprise inclusions, exclusion and also national team regulars missing from the final squad due to injuries. Initially, India announced a 50 players’ provisional squad early in December. The Blue Tigers will not enter unknown grounds in Qatar having played four matches of the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers there. It will be a new face leading them though with Igor Stimac the manager now taking over from Stephen Constantine after his departure post 2019 edition.
India have participated in four Asian Cups before 2023 in 1964, 1984, 2011 and 2019 with this being their first appearance in back-to-back fashion. Their best performance remained in the inaugural edition when they returned as runners-up, two points behind winners Israel, in a round-robin format style back then with only four nations participating. That Indian side contained the likes of Inder Singh and Chuni Goswami.
The Blue Tigers failed to get past the group stages in the next editions coming close in 2019 where after a win against Thailand and an unlucky defeat to hosts UAE, they conceded a late penalty to Bahrain to crash out of the competition. In total, India has secured three wins in the Asian Cup with 12 goals scored. Among them, four have been bagged by captain, leader and legend Sunil Chhetri who remains the top scorer at this stage and will probably play his last Asian Cup at the age of 39.
Qualification for Asian Cup 2023
Failing to secure qualification through the second round, India made sure they did not lose the chance in the next one by topping their third-round group winning all of their matches, which took place in a centralized zone in Salt Lake Stadium, against Hong Kong, Afghanistan and Cambodia. The Blue Tigers scored eight goals with Sunil Chhetri bagging half of them.
Preparation for Asian Cup 2023
After securing the Asian Cup berth, India used the period of building to the tournament by arranging five competitions. The first three of them - Tri-nation Cup, Intercontinental Cup and the SAFF Championship were hosted on home soil and the Blue Tigers triumphed in all of them without losing a match. Igor Stimac’s side then set for foreign tours to play the King’s Cup and the Merdeka Cup both of which they finished last although with some encouraging performance in store. Their 2026 World Cup qualifying campaign got off to a flying start with a 1-0 win over Kuwait away but then a 3-0 loss to Asian Cup hosts Qatar back at home gave a reality check.
India squad for Asian Cup 2023
Goalkeepers: Amrinder Singh, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Vishal Kaith
Defenders: Akash Mishra, Lalchungnunga, Mehtab Singh, Nikhil Poojary, Pritam Kotal, Rahul Bheke, Sandesh Jhingan, Subhasish Bose.
Midfielders: Anirudh Thapa, Brandon Fernandes, Deepak Tangri, Lalengmawia Ralte, Liston Colaco, Naorem Mahesh Singh, Sahal Abdul Samad, Suresh Singh Wangjam, Udanta Singh.
Forwards: Ishan Pandita, Lallianzuala Chhangte, Manvir Singh, Rahul Kannoly Praveen, Sunil Chhetri, Vikram Partap Singh.
The big issue that will trouble the squad is players missing through injuries. Ashique Kuruniyan got ruled out for the season with an ACL injury during national duty in September while his clubmate Anwar Ali picked up an ankle injury in an AFC Cup game with Mohun Bagan Super Giant. A series of absentees from midfield has made the position a little weaker than others with Glan Martins, Rohit Kumar and most importantly, Jeakson Singh ruled out. However, Sahal Abdul Samad has been included despite having an injury concern.
The surprise additions to the main squad have been Deepak Tangri and Ishan Pandita. The former has not been in the best of form since returning from a year-long ACL injury while the latter played just 77 minutes in the ISL although he has been included for the lack of a striker option. Skipper Sunil Chhetri and Gurpreet Singh Sandhu are the only remaining members of the national team squad that took part in the 2011 AFC Asian Cup which was also held in Qatar.
India’s biggest strength from four years earlier could be pointed out at their transition from deep defense and long-ball strategy to swift passing football although counter-attacking remains the fulcrum for the side. The Blue Tigers have gotten players in plenty to play in the style Igor Stimac wants which is a positive sign. With more players included in the national setup than before with quality, the team also have a necessary depth with quality required in tournaments at this level.
Despite all the positive changes, the team still rely on a 39-year-old Sunil Chhetri to make a difference for them although lately others have stepped up in the role. Options are limited in the striker position once again and injuries to key players ahead of the tournament could significantly reduce their chances of achieving their goal in the Asian Cup 2023.
India fixtures for Asian Cup 2023
Saturday, 13 January 2024
Australia vs India - Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan (17:00)
Thursday, 18 January 2024
India vs Uzbekistan - Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan (20:00)
Saturday, 23 January 2024
Syria vs India - Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor (17:00)
India are put into a challenging group paired with one of the competition’s favourites Australia, Uzbekistan and Syria. They begin their campaign against the Socceroos on 13th January whom they also faced in their 2011 opener, the last time Qatar hosted the Asian Cup, with an unkind 4-0 loss memory attached to it. The Blue Tigers will then face Uzbekistan, a side they haven’t beaten in the past, before taking on Syria in the group game on January 23.
With a far tougher group than the one in 2019, the South Asian giants will face difficulty in keeping their knockout dreams alive. The top teams in the group will directly qualify for the last-16 stage alongside the four best third-place teams. India will try their best to take the runners-up spot in the group with certainty that Australia will win it. However, that will be a hard task in itself so the focus might turn to grab the third spot although for that the Blue Tigers have to win a game with a decent goal difference to qualify. The current squad do have ingredients to move into the knockouts but being a fairly inexperience one at this level could be troubling.
Note: All timings are in IST
Also check out | Australia squad for AFC Asian Cup 2024