The Blue Tigers begin their campaign on 19th August against Mauritius and play the second game against St. Kitts & Nevis on 24th August…

The Indian national team is back in action. Stephen Constantine’s men have been training at the Mumbai Football Arena for the last seven days and look in fine shape even in the off-season. After a lot of drama and confusion, Chennai was replaced as the host city for the tournament. Reportedly, the Sports Development Authority of Tamil Nadu and TFA demanded more money for the JLN Stadium than the AIFF could afford and thus Mumbai was finalized as the venue.  

After the AIFF couldn’t muster the fourth side, the recently announced Champions Cup has been sublimated to a tri-nation series. The national team is set to play its third AFC Asian Cup qualifier against Macau on 5th September, away, and a lot has been spoken about the same. The coach and regular winger Jackichand Singh have recently said that the series is set to be a preparatory tournament for the all-important qualifier. Sandesh Jhingan is set to lead the side out on Saturday.

Also Read: Tri-Nation series dress rehearsal for AFC Asian Cup qualifier: Jackichand Singh

Here, we take a look at the few points Constantine might have in his mind before he gets down to business against St. Kitts & Nevis and Mauritius. The national team faces Mauritius and St. Kitts on 19th and 24th August respectively, while the sides play themselves on the 22nd. Further, It has been announced that the FIFA rankings will take these friendlies into consideration and knowing the way AIFF and Constantine have gone about things, it is easy to understand that the Englishman will be looking at two more victories to rise up the rankings.

The team structure

India known to start with the same set of 11 players with 1-2 changes here and there. With Gurpreet Singh Sandhu off to AFC Cup duties after signing for Bengaluru FC recently, former BFC custodian Amrinder Singh or veteran Spiderman Subrata Paul look set to take up the duties under the bar.

The center-back pairing looks set to continue, with both Anas Edathodika and Sandesh Jhingan not putting a foot wrong ever since they made it to the big stage. Supporting them on the flanks would be the self-declared best right-back in India, Pritam Kotal and Narayan Das on the left. Later on in the game, we might see U-23 strong performers Davinder Singh and Jerry Lalrinzuala coming on for the pair. Sarthak Golui and Salam Ranjan Singh will also be hoping to get some time in the senior national jerseys.

The Expected Indian XI in the Champions Cup

With no Sunil Chhetri and Udanta Singh (AFC Cup duties with Bengaluru FC), Constantine can be expected to go with his favored 4-4-2, as seen and reported from the training sessions. In the center, Eugenson Lyngdoh will be expected to be the creative head alongside defensive screener Rowlin Borges. Mohd. Rafique will be expected to don the responsibilities in the second half. If the Indian attackers do really well, Anirudh Thapa and Germanpreet Singh could also expect a look in.

The wings will be taken up by Holicharan Narzary and Jackichand Singh. Bikash Jairu can be expected to play a part as well from the left. On the right, Seityesen Singh and Nikhil Poojary could be given some game time as well.

The attack looks simplified for now. Robin Singh is putting in that extra yard, probably the call-ups of Balwant Singh and Manvir Singh pushing him to go the extra mile. The former East Bengal striker looks in top shape and will be expected to lead the line with Jeje Lalpekhlua in support. Lalpekhlua, with all his hold-up play, will look to provide the inspiration in front of goal.

Preparing for the game against Macau and the future

54-year-old Constantine will be thinking of providing some game time to youngsters who did well in U-23 AFC Championship qualifiers, but will also be hoping to strengthen the core of the side set to play against Macau. The Blue Tigers have won 1-0 against both Myanmar and Kyrgyz Republic in their AFC Asian Cup qualifiers and battering the two minows in this tournament might do them the world a good in terms of confidence in attack.

Thapa, Lalrinzuala and Davinder Singh look to be the prime youngsters expected to be given some time on the pitch. The manager will also expect Lyngdoh to let off his rust from last season to go and become the same old dominant force in the middle of the park again. The midfielder is critical to India’s plans and there’s no denying the fact that we will fare as well as Lyngdoh helps us to.

Also Read: Bengaluru FC sign and unveil Gurpreet Singh Sandhu in European style, pay undisclosed transfer fee to Stabaek

The shape will be key to this game, as, in the absence of Chhetri and Udanta, Constantine would expect his lads to do the job. Balwant and Lalpekhlua might just get the edge over others, looking at their capabilities in front of the opposition goal. The defence played a high line against the Kyrgyz Republic and it would be interesting to see whether that system is reused to negate offsides or not. 

Looking beyond Sunil Chhetri

In the last couple of months, this will be the second opportunity for Constantine to plan for a team sans the mercurial Chhetri. Before the friendly against Nepal, India’s No. 11 had made a remarkable comeback from injury and played the all-important role he wasn’t insured to play against the Kyrgyz Republic in the second qualifier. This time around, though, there are no such return stories.

Constantine must look to muscle the two lightweights ranked at 125 and 160. With Brandon Fernandes and Jayesh Rane not picked yet again, it will be interesting to see who takes up the creative duties for the Blue Tigers. Lyngdoh will be entrusted with the same, but sitting deeper on the pitch. It could also be an opportunity for Rafique or Thapa do something which catches the eye.

FIFA Rankings

Marketing gimmick, meaningless rankings, just not a true story, call it what you want, but the AIFF and national team manager are keeping their eyes on this for sure. The team has risen 76 places in the last two years and it certainly has a chance to improve it further in the next 20 days. If India win the next three games, it is expected to earn them close to 12 points, moving up by at least three spots. If other permutations and combinations are taken into consideration, the team could move up as high as 91.

Telecast and better marketing from IMG

Indian football fans, there’s no more crying over the non-telecast of national team games. The Star Sports Network is set to telecast the game in HD, something Indian football fans have craved for a long time. The network will also broadcast the game against Macau on September 5th, giving much-needed recognition and coverage to the Blue Tigers.

The game starts at 8 PM IST and you can watch the trailer below.