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Khel Now fans name India's predicted XI for AFC Asian Cup 2023

Published at :January 12, 2024 at 10:14 PM
Modified at :January 14, 2024 at 12:04 AM
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Uttiyo Sarkar

Leader Sunil Chhetri has 93 international goals to his name.

The Indian Football Team are all set to begin their AFC Asian Cup 2023 campaign on Saturday (13 January) when they play against heavyweights Australia in the Group A opener. The Blue Tigers have been working hard in training over the last week in preparation for the tournament as Igor Stimac’s men aim to overcome the surmounting odds in Qatar.

The Croatian gaffer has a healthy squad to pick from, but in a game of football, only the 11 best players can be picked. While Stimac tries to get rid of the selection headache and put out his ‘best XI’, Khel Now recently asked the fans to vote for which players they want to see play for the Blue Tigers and created an ideal line-up based on the same. Here is the Khel Now Fans’ India XI for the Asian Cup.

Goalkeeper: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu

Now, this is not surprising at all. Gurpreet Singh Sandhu has been a highly reliable figure for India in international matches over the years and did well at the AFC Asian Cup 2019 edition too. He won over 70% of the fan votes across both Facebook and Twitter, showing just how much fans still trust him.

Even though Gurpreet has had a difficult Indian Super League (ISL) campaign with Bengaluru FC, his qualities can’t be underestimated. He is a goalkeeper who boasts sharp reflexes, the ability to excel against physical opponents and make key saves to be the Blue Tigers’ saviour.

Right-Back: Nikhil Poojary

Nikhil Poojary is another player coming off a dismal first half of the ISL campaign, with his Hyderabad FC side loitering at the bottom. But he has become a trusted figure under Stimac over the last year.

Poojary’s disciplined, composed defensive work and attacking prowess make him a reliable figure and that is why most fans have voted him to be the starting right-back for India. He won over 60% votes from fans, more than Kerala Blasters’ Pritam Kotal, as fans feel that he is more of a complete full-back who can withstand pressure on the right-side.

Centre-Back: Sandesh Jhingan

This is a no-brainer. Jhingan is India’s best defender right now and is flying high on momentum after his heroics with FC Goa. Indeed, the centre-back played a key role over the Gaurs being in second place right now, going unbeaten in 10 games and only conceding five goals.

Jhingan is a commanding figure for India, playing a vital role over maintaining a stubborn defensive shape and using his game-reading ability to cut out a lot of danger. Jhingan has impressed against superior opponents in the past, but it remains to be seen if that can be repeated in the Asian Cup.

Centre-Back: Lalchungnunga

Lalchungnunga showcasing his skills in ISL. (Courtesy: ISL media)

When it comes to the centre-back partner for Jhingan, most fans seem to believe that East Bengal defender Lalchungnunga is ideal for that. He won over 30% of the votes, much more than Mehtab Singh. The 23-year-old centre-back is coming off a pretty solid run of form with East Bengal, whom he helped go on a five-game unbeaten run before the end of the first half of the ISL campaign.

Lalchungnunga is a tough, no-nonsense defender who is physically adept to trouble forwards and can also read the game well. With Anwar Ali injured, it seems that many supporters want him to be Jhingan’s partner-in-crime this time around.

Left-Back: Akash Mishra

Akash Mishra has been performing pretty well at Mumbai City FC since joining them in the summer and has also become an important part of the Indian football team. That is why 65% of fans want him to be the starter left-back for the Blue Tigers in the Asian Cup, because of how well-rounded he is as a full-back.

Mishra is preferred over Subhasish Bose because of how well he can carry the ball forward and cause trouble with his crossing ability too. Akash will look to be at his energetic best and needs to maintain 100% concentration to help his side get positive results.

Centre-Midfield: Lalengmawia Ralte

Lalengmawia Ralte has won over Igor Stimac with his performances for India and Mumbai City over the last year and it seems that fans have also been won over by him. Apuia has traits of a ‘modern midfielder’, as someone who is press resistant, can move the ball forward nicely and also work hard with his own pressing and ball-winning capabilities.

That is why he attracted over 40% of the votes from the fans in the poll, with the majority wanting him to be sheparding over the midfield and keeping opposition midfielders quiet.

Centre-Midfield: Anirudh Thapa

Anirudh Thapa has had a shaky start to his career with Mohun Bagan Super Giant, not managing any goal contribution in 16 games this season. However, he can still be a valuable player in the right system and has proven a handy player in Stimac’s midfield.

Thapa is a hard-working player, who boasts impressive passing ability and set-piece prowess too. That is probably why many fans want him to be paired up with Apuia in midfield. This can not only keep a lively midfield but also improve the Indian team’s creativity and ability to create better transitions.

Attacking-Midfield: Sahal Abdul Samad

Sahal Abdul Samad
Sahal Abdul Samad will aim for a come-back.

Sahal Abdul Samad is coming off a short injury spell, but is expected to be fit for the Asian Cup games. So it’s not surprising that the majority of the fans want to see him as the most advanced midfielder for India because of his creativity and goal-scoring prowess.

Sahal produced four assists in six ISL appearances this season, the most for any Indian player in the competition. He is a clever player in between the lines, being able to position himself in the best areas with his smart movement and also linking up nicely with teammates. Sahal has that extra something in his game that can confuse opponents and help set up big chances.

Right-Wing: Naorem Mahesh Singh

Naorem Mahesh Singh has turned out to be a great addition to Stimac’s squad over the last year and fits into the international football scene really nicely. He can operate in both wings and his versatility is a reason for Stimac preferring him.

Mahesh boasts an excellent crossing ability and nails his delivery into the box, being able to create chances not many others in the Indian team can. That is probably why over 70% of the fans voted for him to feature in the wide areas for India. With Mahesh Singh best operating on the right – from where he can inwards into central positions to cause even more havoc.

Left-Wing: Lallianzuala Chhangte

Lallianzuala Chhangte has really started to flourish in the Indian national team over the last year and assumed more of the responsibilities upon himself. He won the AIFF Men’s Player of the Year award last year and excelled in the SAFF Championship and Intercontinental Cup as well. The 26-year-old has proven his quality as a starter and substitute under Igor Stimac, but more than 45% of the fans voted for him to be a regular starter for India in the Asian Cup.

Chhangte can play in either wing and has four goal contributions (two goals, two assists) in 11 appearances this season for Mumbai City. With his pace, dribbling ability and smart final product, Chhangte can be an x-factor in India’s attack.

Centre-Forward: Sunil Chhetri

He might be 39 and one of the oldest player to be playing in the AFC Asian Cup 2023, but Sunil Chhetri still remains the biggest goal-scorer threat for India. With 93 international goals to his name, the Bengaluru FC skipper is still going strong and will aim to stand out in what might be his final major international tournament. Chhetri is still a fan-favourite and the majority of supporters want him to lead the line for India.

Even though he might not be the quickest or most physical player anymore, but Chhetri plays with his heart on his sleeve. His tactful movement and ruthless finishing ability is unmatched in India, as Stimac will hope the 39-year-old can convert chances regularly for India in the upcoming competition.

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