The Indian football team received a major blow on Monday as their talismanic captain Sunil Chhetri was ruled out of upcoming international friendlies against Bahrain and Belarus due to injury.
The 37-year-old forward had been named among a likely 38 squad by coach Igor Stimac for the matches to be played in Manama on March 23-26.
“I was looking forward to the two friendlies against Bahrain and Belarus and it’s a shame that I missed out,” Chhetri told the Indian Football Federation (AIFF) website.
“It’s been a long and tough season and I’ve had a few minor injuries that need time to heal. I will do my best to recover in time for predator camp in May,” he added.
No less than eight new faces appeared in the list of 38 probable names for the preparatory camp before the friends.
”The potential for this team is huge, and a lot of guys are very confident thanks to their good performances during the League season.
”I’m sure we’ll put our best foot forward. I wish good luck to the team,” said Chhetri who did not specify the nature of the injury.
Goalkeepers Prabhshukhan Gill and Mohammad Nawaz, defenders Deepak Tangri and Roshan Singh, and midfielders Vikram Partap Singh, VP Suhair, Aniket Jadav and Jerry Mawihmingthanga were called up to the national camp for the first time for both matches.
AIFF said midfielder Ashique Kuruniyan, who was also named for the pre-camp, is being rehabilitated.
The players, along with the head coach and staff, will gather in Pune on March 10 for camp with training starting the following day. Players whose clubs would play in the semi-finals of the current Indian Super League will join the camp as their club commitments come to an end.
The contingent will fly to Bahrain on March 21. The Blue Tigers are set to take on Bahrain on March 23 and Belarus on March 26, with both matches starting at 9:30 p.m. IST.
There is still a cloud of uncertainty over whether India will play Belarus as the AIFF said on Tuesday it was trying to ‘avoid’ playing the Eastern European country which supported Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
FIFA has suspended Russia but has yet to announce such a measure for Belarus. Last week, European football governing body UEFA banned Belarus from hosting international matches, but this will have no impact on India’s international friendly.
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