The Blue Tigers’ defensive department consists of players who have generally done well this past year.
India are in for some difficult games in their remaining FIFA World Cup 2022 Qualifiers in June. The Indian football team will initially face-off against Qatar, before games against Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
While qualifying for the next round of the World Cup Qualifiers is a distant dream, they could finish third in the group and progress to the next round of the AFC Asian Cup 2023 Qualifiers. To do so, the Blue Tigers need to pick up maximum points from their games and hope Afghanistan drop points in theirs. Regardless of whatever happens, Igor Stimac’s men have to be a solid unit on the pitch to get some big results.
For that to happen, they must be defensively astute. While a lot will depend on Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and whether or not he shines between the sticks, the back four must also remain solid for India. The team only have eight defenders in their 28-man squad, which means that a first-choice back four must be in Igor Stimac’s mind.
Khel Now looks at the best back four option in the current squad for India and how they can excel in the forthcoming World Cup Qualifiers.
Right-Back: Pritam Kotal
At right-back, Pritam Kotal remains the undisputed best option among those available. Despite playing as a right-sided centre-back for ATK Mohun Bagan in the Indian Super League (ISL) last season, Kotal is a natural right-back. His only real competition for that position is Rahul Bheke.
However, Kotal definitely outperformed the Bengaluru FC star last season. The Mariners maintained the best defensive record in the ISL last season, partly thanks to Kotal’s heroics. Even the ATKMB star’s numbers tower over Bheke. He made 75 tackles, 81 clearances and 46 interceptions in 22 appearances.
Bheke, on the other hand, made 15 appearances and managed 47 tackles, 20 interceptions and 23 clearances. Also, Bheke only had one more goal contribution than Kotal last season.
Kotal is defensively much more proactive, sturdier and can cause trouble if allowed to roam forward. If the Blue Tigers want to maintain a mean defensive line, the tenacious figure of Kotal will be needed.
Centre-Back: Chinglensana Singh
In the centre-back spot, there are only five possible options for Stimac to choose from. Chinglensana Singh should be on the team-sheet – at least for the Qatar game – after his heroics last season. Singh was impressive for Hyderabad FC – who maintained the third-best defensive record in the league.
The 24-year-old made 76 clearances, 26 tackles and 26 interceptions in 18 appearances. With his impressive pace and game-reading ability, he helped HFC get out of tough situations constantly. Chinglensana was definitely more consistent and proactive than Bheke.
Narender Gahlot – a possible competitor for the spot – had a mixed season. The youngster made a lot of individual errors and still looks too raw for the big games. He was also injured for part of the ISL 2020-21 season. Singh’s physicality and never-say-die attitude should help to add more stubbornness to India’s defence.
Centre-Back: Sandesh Jhingan
Sandesh Jhingan proved his class in his first season with ATK Mohun Bagan in the ISL. Coming off after a nasty injury that kept him on the shelf for over a year, Jhingan was an absolute rock. He bullied attackers, maintained a brilliant defensive line and looked to be back to his best.
Now, with some much-needed rest giving him the chance to go into these games with 100% fitness, Jhingan should be the first name on the team-sheet. None of the other centre-backs in the squad are better than him right now. His lookalike Adil Khan has made too many mistakes in recent games to start any big match.
Jhingan and Chinglensana can create a solid defensive duo because of their qualities. With the composed Jhingan by his side, Sana can perhaps play a bit more aggressively and hassle opposition strikers. They can both take turns in going in with aggressive tackles and mark strikers tightly.
Left-Back: Akash Mishra
The left-back spot could probably be the one to produce an unpredictable selection. Subasish Bose is the most experienced left-back taken to Qatar. However, on recent form, Akash Mishra just about towers over him after his heroics in the ISL last season.
The 19-year-old Hyderabad FC starlet had a real breakthrough season with the Nizams. He made 80 tackles, 55 interceptions and 48 clearances in 20 appearances for them, shutting down some of the best wingers. Bose was also quite solid for ATKMB making 79 tackles, 28 interceptions and 59 clearances in as many games.
However, Subasish made more fouls than Mishra and his attacking product was very sloppy. Mishra averaged a 68.56% passing accuracy and created more chances with his lively runs. The young left-back is just more energetic, tenacious and courageous.
To add more spirit to his backline, Stimac should stick with Akash Mishra and give him some much-needed game-time. The 19-year-old has the chance to become India’s regular left-back and big performances in Qatar can consolidate that.