Some of these players featured in the recent SAFF Championship win.

The U-23 Indian football team will soon embark on their qualifiers for the AFC U-23 Asian Cup that will take place next year. Igor Stimac’s side haven’t really gotten much time to prepare after the SAFF Championship 2021. However, the Croatian has selected a number of players involved in that tournament in his U-23 squad as well.

The 23-man squad comprises mostly of players from Indian Super League (ISL) teams. Only a few players are from the I-League. A few well-known players are in the squad. They will mainly be tasked to help India get wins against formidable opposition in the UAE, Oman and Kyrgyz Republic.

That said, let’s take a look at five key Indian players to keep an eye out for during the upcoming AFC U-23 Asian Cup 2022 Qualifiers:

5. Dheeraj Singh Moirangthem

Dheeraj Singh is likely to be India U-23s’ first-choice goalkeeper for the upcoming qualifiers after impressing for FC Goa last season. He excelled in their AFC Champions League campaign, producing some terrific performances in goal. The former Kerala Blasters and ATK Mohun Bagan shot-stopper only conceded five goals in as many matches. He kept two clean-sheets as well.

The 21-year-old’s impressive reflexes and commanding nature should help him maintain a sturdy defensive line. If India have to get the wins, Dheeraj needs to be sturdy in goal and keep clean-sheets. He has already shown that he has the pedigree to shine in big matches, so it remains to be seen how the young goalkeeper performs in the qualifiers.

4. Vikram Partap Singh

Vikram Partap Singh
With his dribbling ability, pace and awareness in the final third, the youngster can be a real unpredictable figure.

The young Mumbai City starlet has shone in multiple youth-level matches for India. Now, it’s his time to prove his ability at the U-23 level. The 19-year-old didn’t get much playing time for the Islanders last season, making a few appearances as a substitute. However, Vikram Partap Singh is a real firecracker in the attacking areas.

With his dribbling ability, pace and awareness in the final third, the youngster can be a real unpredictable figure. He just needs to make good use of his clinical nature and be decisive in front of goal to bring that spark to India’s game. If able to pick up form, the 19-year-old could be the breakout star of the tournament for India.

3. Rahul KP

Rahul KP enjoyed a prolific season with Kerala Blasters last time around and was arguably among their best performers. He was their third-highest scorer in the league, netting three goals in 17 appearances. The versatile winger can be a really explosive figure in attack, with his pace and dribbling ability helping him standout from the rest.

Having scored against Bengaluru FC and FC Goa last season, Rahul proved his capability of shining in big games. A clinical finisher and with loads of creativity to torment opponents, the 21-year-old could be the focal point of India U-23s’ attack and help them excel.

2. Rahim Ali

Rahim Ali
Ali’s hold-up play and ability to create space for others can help Stimac’s young side.

Rahim Ali has emerged as a new favorite for Igor Stimac, who gave him quite a few opportunities in the last few games. He was the ‘Man of the Tournament’ during the series of friendly games against Nepal last month. Ali also featured in the SAFF Championship win and is likely to lead the line for India U-23s in the upcoming qualifiers.

A well-built, physical striker, Ali’s hold-up play, ability to create space for others and swift reactions can help Stimac’s young side. If able to be more clinical with his finishing, the Chennaiyin FC striker can really torment India U23s’ opponents in the coming games.

1. Lalengmawia

Lalengmawia was one of India’s best performers in the SAFF Championship win. He starred in the big wins over Maldives and Nepal (final), cementing his position as a regular in the team. Naturally, he’s likely to start all of India U23s’ games at the AFC U-23 Asian Cup Qualifiers. Apuia will be tasked to control the midfield battle for India, making good use of his excellent passing ability and composed nature.

The Mumbai City midfielder has to maintain a nice tempo to inspire the India U-23 side to take the fight to their opponents. He also has to work hard defensively to protect his backline and keep them from being exposed. If able to find his groove in the qualifiers, Apuia can guide the Blue Colts to some memorable results.

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