When India took the field against Oman after 492 days without international football, it was not only about the result but also about improving the performance of the players.
Igor Stimac’s new-look India squad has plenty of fresh faces and the coach handed out debuted to 10 players in the first of two international friendlies in Dubai ahead of their World Cup-Asian Cup qualifiers in June later this year,
Suresh Wangjam (Bengaluru), Akash Mishra (Hyderabad), Bipin Singh (Mumbai City), Jeakson Singh (Kerala Blasters), Ashutosh Mehta (NorthEast United), Mohammed Yasir (Hyderabad), Ishan Pandita (FC Goa), Chinglensana (Hyderabad), Lalengmawia (NorthEast United) and Mashoor Shereef (NorthEast United were the new faces introduced by Stimac.
The 10 new faces were given the biggest stage till now in their career to show their skillset to the world. The last time so many players made their debut for the India national team was more than five years ago, on March 12, 2015.
The then-head coach Stephen Constantine handed seven players their national team debut on that day against Nepal. In a game that ended 2-0 in favour of the Blue Tigers, Pritam Kotal, Saumik Dey, Sandesh Jhingan, Cavin Lobo, Eugeneson Lyngdoh, Jackichand Singh and Halicharan Narzary took the field for India for the first time in their life.
Out of those seven players, four players – Kotal, Jhingan, Jackichand and Narzary – are currently still competing for places in the national team. Kotal and Jhingan have become mainstays in defence and the latter recently started India’s 1-1 draw against Oman on March 25, 2021.
Although Constantine faced flak for his team selection more than once during his four-year stint, he ended up giving debuts to more than 40 players. Stimac took over from the English gaffer after India’s exit from the 2019 AFC Asian Cup and has led the team to just one win so far.
India’s style of play has improved and by giving 10 players their national team debut, Stimac is involved in an attempt to revamp the India squad to make it efficient to hunt for success. With more debuts to come during his tenure, the Croatian coach could break Constantine’s record with the Blue Tigers.