The Blue Tigers will take on Qatar, Bangladesh and Afghanistan in June.

The Indian football team squad to take part in the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers in Qatar next month has been announced. An initial 28-man squad has travelled to face Qatar, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan in June.

Igor Stimac has chosen a good mix of young blood and experienced campaigners in his squad. The selection seems to have been based on the ISL performances and that in the AFC Champions League as well. Four FC Goa stars have been selected, with most of them in contention to start the games too.

So, what is the best starting XI Stimac should use for the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers? The Indian football team are yet to win a single game in the campaign. He’ll have to select the players experienced enough on this stage and those who go into these in top form.

Goalkeeper: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu

Gurpreet Singh Sandhu is the undisputed No.1 for the Indian team for a reason. He always seems to excel for the Blue Tigers, regardless of his form in the domestic league. But, that doesn’t mean Gurpreet had a disappointing season in the ISL.

Infact, he was still one of the best goalkeepers last season and saved Bengaluru FC from disaster so many times. He made 58 saves in 19 appearances – boasting a 69.87% save percentage. Despite only keeping four clean-sheets, Gurpreet’s clutch stops saved the Blues from further embarrassments.

Dheeraj Singh Moirangthem might’ve excelled for FC Goa in the AFC Champions League and Amrinder may have been among the best shot-stoppers in the ISL, but Gurpreet’s superior experience, mentality and big-game experience still makes him a better candidate for the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers.

Right-Back: Pritam Kotal

Pritam Kotal was one of the most reliable Indian defenders in the 2020-21 ISL season at ATK Mohun Bagan. He helped the Mariners maintain a solid defensive shape and the best defensive record among all teams.

Kotal might’ve predominantly played as a centre-back, but is still a commendable right-back. He made 75 tackles, 81 clearances and 46 interceptions in 22 appearances for the Mariners last season.

Kotal ended up bullying some of the best strikers and came up with clutch challenges to avert danger. While his attacking output is still not the best, a proactive, sturdy defender like Kotal is required to help the Indian football team neutralize the opponents’ attacking threat in the coming games.

Centre-Back: Chinglensana Singh

The Hyderabad FC defender’s form last season means he deserves a place in the lineup

One of the real surprise packages of the 2020-21 ISL season, Chinglensana Singh proved his quality for Hyderabad FC. He helped the Nizams maintain the third-best defensive record in the league stage, conceding only 19 goals in 20 games.

With his combative defensive style, the 24-year-old frustrated many attackers and helped his team get some big wins. But, more than just his defending, his 84.34% passing accuracy last season proves Singh can be one to help India play their way out of trouble at the back.

Singh’s form last season means he deserves a place in the lineup ahead of an error-prone Adil Khan and Rahul Bheke.  He’s proven himself capable of tussling against the best and should help the Blue Tigers maintain a strong defensive line with his courageous defending.

Centre-Back: Sandesh Jhingan

Sandesh Jhingan made an impressive return to action in the ISL last season for ATK Mohun Bagan. After missing more than a year of action due to injury, the bullish centre-back excelled under Antonio Habas’ guidance.

Jhingan was one of the major reasons for ATKMB keeping so many clean-sheets. He fitted into their defensive system perfectly and led from the front with his aggressive defending.

Jhingan ended up being one of the best defenders of the 2020-21 ISL season and he led the Mariners to the final. The 27-year-old is guaranteed to start all the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers and has to be at his best to keep clean-sheets against the oppositions.

Khel Now’s Indian Football XI for FIFA World Cup qualifiers

Left-Back: Akash Mishra

Akash Mishra emerged as Stimac’s preferred left-back in India’s recent International Friendlies and is likely to keep his spot. The young full-back had an impressive breakthrough campaign with Hyderabad last season and helped them excel.

In 20 ISL games, he made 80 tackles, 55 interceptions and 48 clearances to neutralize the threat of big-name wingers. Mishra’s impressive pace, concentration levels and ability to make clutch challenges helped him soar in the 2020-21 season of the ISL.

With only Subhasish Bose as his competition in the upcoming FIFA World Cup Qualifiers, Mishra’s chances of featuring have vastly improved. He had a better campaign than Bose in the ISL last season and looks a confident figure for the Blue Tigers. So it shouldn’t be surprising if Stimac starts him in every game to help take the fight to the opposition.

Central Midfield: Glan Martins

Glan Martins introduced himself to Indian football fans in style with his heroics for FC Goa in the AFC Champions League. The hard-working midfielder outperformed many of his teammates in the group stage and continuously hassled opponents.

With his incredible energy, tackling ability and defensive qualities – Glan ensured Goa maintained their stubborn attitude throughout the campaign. Even in the ISL last season, he performed really well and scored an incredible goal for FC Goa against Mumbai City. With his current form and impressive match fitness, Martins can outperform many.

He is probably more ready for the big games than the likes of Lalengmawia or Rowllin Borges because of his ACL heroics. Martins can help the Blue Tigers maintain their fighting spirit in midfield and bring an intimidating factor with his never-say-die attitude.

Central Midfield: Anirudh Thapa

Kerala Blasters Chennaiyin FC
Thapa captained Chennaiyin FC in ISL 2020-21

In recent years, whenever the Indian football team have played well in international games, Anirudh Thapa has seemingly been an ever-present figure. The young midfielder had a topsy-turvy season with Chennaiyin FC in the ISL, but remains one of the most gifted midfielders in India.

Thapa knows Stimac’s playing style perfectly and can adapt to games impressively. With Martins beside him, he could even stride forward more often and try to create chances with his clever passing.

The hard-working midfielder’s versatility and strong character should help the Indian football team compete strongly.

Right Wing: Bipin Singh

Bipin Singh was the breakout star of the 2020-21 ISL season – excelling for winners Mumbai City. The 26-year-old scored six goals and registered four assists for the Islanders – being their best domestic performer.

In recent International Friendlies, Bipin proved that he could also excel with the national team. He provided an impressive assist for Manvir Singh’s goal in the 1-1 draw in March. Bipin’s movement, link-up play and threat on the counter-attack make him a perfect suit for Stimac’s side.

With both Lallianzuala Chhangte and Udanta Singh riddled with inconsistency, Bipin is the best choice to play on the right wing. He’ll be determined to make an impact in the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers and can act as India’s unpredictable attacking threat with his clever work.

Attacking Midfield: Brandon Fernandes

Brandon Fernandes is arguably the most creative midfielder in Indian football currently – as proven by his ACL heroics. Fernandes almost operated as an extra foreign player for FC Goa in it – producing some excellent performances.

He assisted both their goals (against Persepolis and Al Rayyan) in the competition with superb passes. Fernandes’ technical quality is undisputed and he’s also found that added spring in his step to work harder in games. He’s now covering more ground, making more tackles and timing his passes better.

It’s safe to say that to score goals and win games, the Indian football team will be dependent on Brandon. The midfielder must be spot on with his set-piece delivery and defence-splitting through balls to create chances for his forwards and help the Blue Tigers shock their opponents.

Left Wing: Sunil Chhetri

Sunil Chhetri
India badly missed the services of Chhetri against Oman and UAE

Sunil Chhetri’s absence was badly felt by India in their recent International Friendlies. The Blue Tigers often looked toothless in attack and seemingly gave up on multiple occasions. But, now fit and COVID-free, Chhetri is back to lead from the front.

The Bengaluru FC captain looked sharp in their big win over Tribhuvan Army in the AFC Cup Qualifiers last month. He scored an impressive goal and looked to have his form back.

India will need to use Chhetri’s street-fighting nature and incredible spirit as motivation in the next games. Chhetri himself has to produce something special and come up with clutch goals for the Blue Tigers to get some respective results in the remaining qualifiers.

Striker: Manvir Singh

Right now, Manvir Singh is undoubtedly the strongest option India have in the No. 9 role. The ATK Mohun Bagan striker’s physicality, surprising burst of pace and finishing ability can trouble many teams.

After having scored six goals in the ISL last season and once against Oman in the friendlies, Manvir is riding high on confidence. His ability to drift into wider areas, create chances for teammates and bully defenders will be key for India to trouble opposition defenders.

Manvir will expect better delivery from his teammates inside the area to score goals or at least trouble the goalkeepers. With the Blue Tigers in need of goals to have a chance of getting a win or two in the remaining games, Manvir has to be at his clinical best to ensure that happens.

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