Head coach Igor Stimac gave 10 players their debut when India played Oman in a friendly last March, their first international in 15 months. It is unlikely to be different this time against Bahrain and Belarus in Manama on March 23 and 26.
After 85 of the 115 matches following ATK Mohun Bagan’s 2-1 win against Hyderabad FC on Tuesday, HT lists seven uncapped players from the eighth season of the Indian Super League (ISL) who could be called up.
Five of them—Prabhsukhan Gill, Aniket Jadhav, Jitendra Singh, Roshan Naorem and Vikram Pratap Singh—were with Indian Arrows, the development side of the All India Football Federation. Three—Gill, Jadhav and Jitendra—were also part of India’s under-17 World Cup campaign.
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Here’s looking at those seven:
Prabhsukhan Gill (21): Having been Gurpreet Singh Sandhu’s understudy at Bengaluru FC—there was a family reunion in 2019-20 with older brother and defender Gursimrat also playing for the club and mother Hardev, the inspiration behind the siblings’ football story, staying with them—he joined Kerala Blasters in 2020-21 and was behind first-choice goalie Albino Gomes in the pecking order. Since a knee injury ruled Gomes out for this season in December, Gill hasn’t looked back. In a season where Sandhu and Amrinder Singh, India’s top two goalkeepers, have struggled, Gill has four clean sheets (the most) and leads the race for the golden glove in ISL 8, conceding a goal every 117.71 minutes.
“Since he has started, he has done a great job and he has to continue working hard with our goalkeeping coach, with the team and become even better,” said Kerala Blasters’ coach Ivan Vukomanovic of the player, who began as a defender but changed on the advice of former India international Harjinder Singh at the Chandigarh Football Academy.
In numbers: Games: 10 Goals conceded: 7 Clean sheets: 4 Saves: 25 Save percentage: 78.12
Hira Mondal (25): Like Kiyan Nassiri, he is a product of the football ecosystem in Kolkata; in Monojit Das, they even had the same coach for a while. Mondal began in the Nursery League and grew up at different clubs before doing well for Mohammedan Sporting in the 2020-21 I-League.
The SC East Bengal full back—he has played on the left and the right of the defence—has been their most consistent performer. And he has made three goalline saves this term—one against Sunil Chhetri, one in the Kolkata derby and an incredible left-foot clearance from the line against Odisha FC. Mondal’s performance “was good” and he is “learning about the level” he “has to play”, said coach Mario Rivera. He is one of those who always tries to do better, said Rivera.
In numbers: Games: 14 Crosses: 19 Tackles: 44 Interceptions: 27 Clearances: 53 Blocks: 31
Lalthathanga Khawlhring (Puitea) (23): One of the reasons Kerala Blasters have the maximum clean sheets (5) is because what is happening in front of Gill’s goal. Puitea and Jeakson Singh have shown they can marshal the central midfield—no one has made as many tackles in 11 games as Puitea (61). And that gives Vukomanovic the licence to play foreigners at the back and in attack. Having come through the ranks at the now-defunct DSK Shivajians, where Lalianzuala Chhangte and Jerry Mawihmingthanga too learnt the ropes, the player from Mizoram had a breakout season at NorthEast United in 2018-19. He joined Kerala Blasters in 2020-21.
“He has a great left foot and can operate in various positions in the midfield, both centrally and out on the wings,” Kerala Blasters’ assistant-coach Ishfaq Ahmed has said.
In numbers: Games: 11 Assist: 1 Passing accuracy: 79.24% Tackles: 61 Interceptions: 13 Clearances: 5 Blocks: 7
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Jitendra Singh (20): Like his under-17 World Cup teammate and India international Jeakson Singh, he is a defensive midfielder who can also play as centre-back. “Jitu is getting better day by day. You saw his performance tonight,” said Jamshedpur FC coach Owen Coyle after the 2-1 win against ATK Mohun Bagan.
Like Manolo Marquez at Hyderabad FC and Vukomanovic, Coyle is known for improving Indian players. Coyle has praised the team’s collective defending—along with holders Mumbai City FC and Bengaluru FC, Jamshedpur FC have four clean sheets, the second-highest—and Singh has been crucial to that.
In numbers: Games: 13 Assist: 1 Passing accuracy: 75.98% Tackles: 41 Interceptions: 16 Clearances: 7 Blocks: 10
Aniket Jadhav (21): With two goals and three assists—only one Indian has more—he is one of the first names in the team sheet. That he can play as No 9 and on both sides as a winger adds to his utility. He adds pace to Hyderabad FC’s attack along with speedy full backs Ashish Rai and Akash Mishra.
“Aniket is a player with a lot of qualities. But he is young and can improve in a lot of areas, especially in decision-making (such as an extra touch that killed a goal-scoring opportunity against ATK Mohun Bagan). But he can be an important player in Indian football because he can score goals, dribble, cross,” Marquez has said.
In numbers: Games: 13 Goals: 2 Assists: 3 Passing accuracy: 53.84% Tackles: 16 Interceptions: 8 Clearances: 4 Blocks: 9
Roshan Naorem (23): He is in the top 20 in the number of tackles (11) and passes (19) and shares the top slot for the maximum assists (6). He can play wide midfielder, full back and wing back. No wonder than that Marco Pezzaiuoli, who has benched Chhetri, Udanta Singh and Suresh Wangjam, has taken a shine to this former Indian Arrows player. And he scored with a left-footer from a free-kick that ended Kerala Blasters’ unbeaten run.
“He is doing well, he is training but he also needs to be normal. It’s very important as he knows he is not ready for everything yet. He is trying to take more steps upwards,” Pezzaiuoli has said of Naorem.
In numbers: Games: 13 Goals: 1 Assists: 6 Tackles: 59 Interceptions: 19 Clearances: 31 Blocks: 24
Vikram Pratap Singh (20): Inside 25 minutes, he had hared on the right and scored twice, leaving ATK Mohun Bagan chasing a crooked shadow. It was the beginning of the end of Antonio Lopez Habas, one of ISL’s most successful coaches. From no goals in 11 games, where he was used mostly to run down the clock, in the last season he had two. And just to show that those were no fluke, he scored one late against Chennaiyin FC, one that ended defending champions Mumbai City FC’s seven-game no-win streak. The India under-23 striker though is still some way from his personal target of getting 10 goals this season.
“It’s important that they understand the system that we want to play and how they work within it and that is what Vikram has done,” said coach Des Buckingham after his team’s five-star show against Bagan in December.
In numbers: Games: 10 Goals: 3 Shots: 11 Crosses: 9 Tackles: 27 Interceptions: 6 Blocks: 7
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