Bengaluru FC’s Goalkeeper Injuries Raise Concerns About Gurpreet Singh Sandhu‘s Release for Asian Games as ISL Approaches; AIFF Optimistic for Resolution
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Injury Concerns Cast Doubt on Sandhu’s Release for Upcoming Asian Games
Injuries to the second and third-choice goalkeepers have sparked discussions within Bengaluru FC, potentially leading to the club not releasing Gurpreet Singh Sandhu for the upcoming Asian Games scheduled for next month. Officials from both the club and the All India Football Federation (AIFF) shared insights with HT on Tuesday. To preserve relationships within the club and federation, these officials preferred to remain anonymous.
Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, aged 31, stands as one of the three players over the age of 24 whose names were included to ensure India’s robust representation in the Asian Games set to unfold in Hangzhou, China. Kalyan Chaubey, the President of AIFF, emphasized this inclusion as a means to field a competitive team. Sunil Chhetri and Sandesh Jhingan are the two other players over 24 included in the 22-member roster for the Asian Games.
The clash schedule includes matches against the host nation on September 19, Bangladesh on September 21, and Myanmar three days later. The top two teams from each of the six groups, along with the four best third-place teams, will advance to the round of 16.
An official from Bengaluru FC stated that goalkeepers Amrit Gope and Vikram Lakhbir Singh are nursing injuries, making them unlikely to be available in September. Moreover, Lara Sharma, another keeper, has been loaned to Kerala Blasters. The official expressed the club’s difficulties, even in conducting regular training sessions.
Indian National Team’s Dilemma: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu’s Potential Absence
The Indian Super League (ISL), anticipated to commence in the third week of September, raises concerns among stakeholders. Football Sports Development Limited (FSDL), the league’s governing body, revealed this schedule. AIFF has formally requested FSDL to ensure the availability of top players when the league begins, according to a federation official.
However, in the event of the ISL overlapping with the Asian Games, clubs are not obligated to release players due to the absence of a FIFA window. (FIFA windows are designated time frames for international matches; one such window, from September 4-12, coincides with India’s participation in the King’s Cup, during which clubs are restricted from retaining players.) Negotiations between AIFF and Bengaluru FC have been ongoing covertly for the past three days, seeking a viable solution.
Shaji Prabhakaran, the Secretary-General of AIFF, confirmed this ongoing dialogue, expressing hope that Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, recognized as one of Asia’s premier goalkeepers, could participate in the Asian Games. Prabhakaran acknowledged the complexities arising from Bengaluru FC’s injury concerns. Notably, six players in the Indian national team squad for the Games hail from Bengaluru FC.
Gurpreet Singh Sandhu’s potential absence poses a significant challenge for the Indian national team manager, Igor Stimac. Additionally, the national team’s roster includes seven players from Indian clubs participating in Asian competitions on September 18 and 19, rendering them unavailable for the opening match.
Indian Clubs’ Players’ Potential Overlap in Crucial Asian Competitions
Vikram Pratap Singh, Akash Mishra, and Apuiah (Lalengmawia Ralte) might be engaged in Mumbai City’s fixture against Iran’s FC Nassaji Mazandaran in Pune on September 18 within the Asian Champions League. On September 19, Anwar Ali and Ashish Rai from Mohun Bagan Super Giant, alongside Narender Gahlot and Aniket Jadhav from Odisha FC, could potentially face each other in the AFC Cup. This scenario might leave Roshan Singh as the sole available regular full-back against China.
Prabhakaran assured efforts to transport the players to Hangzhou by September 20. He also emphasized AIFF’s intention to communicate with the Asian Football Confederation, advocating for a reconsideration of certain rules for the Asian Games. Specifically, AIFF seeks to address the lack of flexibility in player registrations, given that football at the Asian Games extends beyond the typical eight-nine day windows allotted by FIFA. Only continental championships within FIFA’s confederations enjoy a month-long window. Football activities in Hangzhou are scheduled from September 19 to October 7.
Despite the initial expectations of India’s progression to the next round after the draw in July, challenges loom large. The task could prove more daunting due to insufficient preparation and the possible absence of key players, particularly for the initial match.
Following the King’s Cup fixtures on September 7 and 10, the Indian team is slated to stay in Chiang Mai, Thailand, before entering the Games village on September 16.