Sandesh Jhingan And Two More Players Join Chhetri-Led Indian Team For Asian Games

The Asian Games football competition is for under-23 players, with three over-age players allowed per side. 

Sandesh Jhingan

The All India Football Federation (AIFF) announced on Friday that senior defender Sandesh Jhingan will be joining the Indian squad for the forthcoming Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, resolving the club versus country debate.

Sunil Chhetri, the veteran striker, will lead the Indian challenge, and in addition to his old teammate Jhingan, he will be able to call on Chinglensana Singh and Lalchungnunga, who were added to the roster by AIFF. 

"It's a wonderful development that some experienced players have been added to the Asian Games squad, who will certainly help the team's cause," said India head coach Igor Stimac, who has been asking Indian Super League (ISL) teams to release their players for national duty.

"I'm thankful to FSDL (ISL organisers) and AIFF for making it happen. Whoever represents India, together we will be honoured to defend the flag."

According to a press release from the national federation, the AIFF will undertake a medical examination on Naorem Mahesh Singh before deciding whether to include him in the squad.

"It is indeed a positive development on the eve of the Asian Games as the reliable pair of Sunil Chhetri and Sandesh Jhingan will be manning two key positions in the Indian attack and defence, respectively, for the continental games," AIFF president Kalyan Chaubey said.

"We are further happy that some more experienced footballers are there in the squad to strengthen our campaign."

The Indian squad's preparations for the forthcoming Games were given a significant setback earlier this week, as ISL teams refused to release numerous important national team players for the continental event.

Thirteen players were not released by their respective teams from the original 22-man roster named last month. Jhingan and first-choice custodian Gurpreet Singh Sandhu were among those who were not freed. 

However, the AIFF was able to resolve the situation following frantic negotiations.

After many teams declined to release their players, the 39-year-old Chhetri, who has set insurmountable national records in his 18-year international career, was the first to raise his hand.

The Asian Games football competition is for under-23 players, with three over-age players allowed per side. 

This will be Chhetri's third Asian Games, having competed in his first as a 22-year-old under English coach Bob Houghton in 2006. Bhaichung Bhutia, who was one of the over-age players, headed the team. India finished the group stage after drawing with Hong Kong (1-1), beating Maldives (2-1), and losing to Iran (0-2). 

Chhetri captained India at the 2014 edition in Incheon, Korea, after being selected as one of the players over the age of 23. India's campaign was cut short in the group stage after losses to the UAE (0-5) and Jordan (0-2).

Chaubey expressed gratitude to FSDL for responding to the need of the hour and assisting the national team by agreeing to reschedule some Indian Super League matches scheduled to begin on September 21. 

He also commended all AIFF parties for their efforts in resolving the deadlock generated by the release of players and the overlapping of dates.

Indian men's squad for the Asian Games:

Goalkeepers: Gurmeet Singh, Dheeraj Singh Moirangthem.
Defenders: Sumit Rathi, Narender Gahlot, Deepak Tangri, Sandesh Jhingan, Chinglensana Singh, Lalchungnunga.
Midfielders: Amarjit Singh Kiyam, Samuel James Lyngdoh, Rahul KP, Abdul Rabeeh, Ayush Dev Chhetri, Bryce Miranda, Azfar Noorani, Vincy Barretto.
Forwards: Sunil Chhetri, Rahim Ali, Rohit Danu, Gurkirat Singh, Aniket Jadhav.
Head coach: Igor Stimac.

(With PTI inputs)