The Blue Tigers will miss Sandesh Jhingan and Amarjit Singh Kiyam who have both suffered long-term injuries.

Igor Stimac has announced the 23-man India squad for Bangladesh clash in the FIFA World Cup Qualifier, to be held on October 15 in Kolkata.

While the majority of the squad is similar to the one picked by the coach for India’s last game against Qatar, Rahul Bheke who was sent home from the preparatory camp has returned to the fold. Raynier Fernandes comes in to replace the Rowllin Borges who had displayed an outstanding performance last time out.

On the other hand, Sarthak Golui makes the cut this time, as the Mumbai City FC defender looks forward to his debut for the national team. Golui had an excellent outing with FC Pune City last season in the Indian Super League (ISL), as he turned the attention of many before signing for The Islanders.

Pritam Kotal too returns to the squad in place of Sandesh Jhingan, who recently suffered an injury keeping him on the sidelines for at least a month.

The Blue Tigers will also miss Amarjit Singh Kiyam, who is yet to recover from a long-term injury suffered post the Intercontinental Cup.

Another new addition to the team is Balwant Singh who replaces Jobby Justin in the list of forwards. Rest, Manvir Singh and Sunil Chhetri remain the constants.

Interestingly, the Blue Tigers have a mighty midfield with the likes of Anirudh Thapa, Sahal Abdul Samad and Ashique Kuruniyan leading the frontier.

“Halicharan, Farukh and Nishu gave others a tough run for money and the decision was not an easy one. They came very close to their competitors. It was in fact a tough decision to take,” Stimac explained.

“Sandesh is our Iron-man. He’ll be missed in Kolkata but knowing him, I’m pretty sure, he’ll come back much stronger,” Stimac stated.

Indian National Physio Gigy George informed that “Sandesh has suffered on his left knee ACL tear and need to undergo surgery. It usually takes 6 months for return to sport. He will be monitored constantly during the rehabilitation phase so that he comes back on the field sooner.”

Meanwhile, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, who stood tall against Asian champions termed Sandesh’s absence as ‘a big loss’ for the Blue Tigers.

“It’s really sad. It’s a big loss for us, especially at this moment. I could imagine how would he feel missing this game but he’s a strong guy and he’ll come back strongly soon,” Sandhu said.

Adil, who has developed a strong partnership with Jhingan at the heart of the defence of late, feels Sandesh’s absence provides others with a chance to prove their worth in front of the Kolkata crowd.

“He (Sandesh) plays a huge role in our team and he’s the leader in our defence. Now, the onus is on us to live up to the expectations. We want to win it for him,” Adil echoed.

Meanwhile, the Bangladesh team had a practice session in Kolkata in the morning, and experienced player Mamunul Islam dismissed theories that India will be handicapped by Sandesh’s absence.

“His absence allows the chance for others who will be playing their hearts out to prove to their coach that they deserve a place in the squad. I am sure India has able replacements,” Mamunul maintained.

The good news, however, stays that Rahul Bheke has improved fast, and Stimac applauded the medical team for it.

“Credit to the Bengaluru FC and Indian National Team medical unit, Rahul (Bheke) is back on his feet. He’s a strong contender for starting the match against Bangladesh,” the 52-year-old coach commented.

India Squad to face Bangladesh in the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifier:

Goalkeepers: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Kamaljit Singh, Amrinder Singh.

Defenders: Anas Edthodika, Adil Khan, Pritam Kotal, Subhasish Bose, Sarthak Golui, Narender Gahlot, Rahul Bheke, Mandar Rao Dessai.

Midfielders: Anirudh Thapa, Sahal Abdul Samad, Raynier Fernandes, Brandon Fernandes, Udanta Singh, Lallianzuala Chhangte, Ashique Kuruniyan, Vinit Rai, Nikhil Poojary.

Forwards: Sunil Chhetri, Manvir Singh, Balwant Singh.