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Not in the limelight

Patriot takes a look at some of the players in the Indian national football setup, who may not be as well known, but prove to be a crucial factor in India’s chance at the World Cup qualifiers

On August 19, India start their official practice sessions for the 2022 World Cup qualifiers, to be held in early and mid-September. India’s qualifier group consists of Asian champions Qatar, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Oman.

Under new coach Igor Stimac, they have already selected the 35 probables for training out, of which the best 15 will be flown to Guwahati for the first match vs Qatar.

We all know about the core group of players consisting if Sunil Chhetri, Gurpreet Sandhu, Anas, Sandesh Jhingan, among many.  But what about the relatively unknown quantities, who are also looking to make a mark but are not in the limelight?

Here we take a look at some of the lesser known plyers and some young players who just made to the side- and how they can have an impact as India look to qualify for their first ever World Cup appearance.

Halicharan Narzary

Born in the small town of Kokrajhar( Assam), Narzary first broke loose in the under-16 national tournament for Assam, and was then picked up by the Pailan Arrows, the youth wing of the AIFF. After the Arrows, he moved to I League side Dempo and then DSK Shivajians, where he had a breakthrough season, scoring four goals in 12 matches. He now currently plays for Kerala Blasters in the ISL and is currently out on loan to Channaiyin FC.

The left winger likes to cut in, dribble and then take shots at goal. He is versatile enough, to play in the right wing and also play as a striker.

However, his style of play should allow him to score more goals, especially the position he plays in. But, he has scored just 12 goals in his 121 club appearances, and just one goal in his 26 senior national appearances. Even in the AFC Asia Cup, he played all games for India but failed to create any impact.

He may be the first-choice left winger in the side, but he needs to show the talent he has on the pitch and up his game to make it in the first eleven.

Narender Gehlot

The youngster born in 2001 is now currently one of the most shining tars in the Indian football scene. Having graduated from the Pailan Arrows academy, Gehlot started his footballing career right here in Delhi.

Gehlot now plays for ISL side Jamshedpur FC, wherein he started 11 matches for the outfit and quickly transitioned as their first choice central defender.

Gehlot is a strong, tall and muscular centre back – qualities that a player in his position must possess. In addition, he can make in tackles at the right place at the right time, and has a dangerously powerful header, as evident from his goal vs Syria in the Intercontinental Cup. He thus became the first Indian to be born after 2000 to score an international goal

Gehlot, thus is not only a wall defensively, but also a threat in set pieces, and can prove to be a major asset, should Stimac choose to play a three-man defence with him, Anas and Jhingan.

Anirudh Thapa

Having born to a footballing family – with his father playing for Gujarat Santosh trophy side- Thapa learned the nuances of the game from the early age of five years old.

The youngster rose in the ranks first for his school team – St Joseph’s Dehra Dun- and then slowly progressing to the Pailan Arrows team, even captaining their u-16 side. He was then picked up for Chennaiyin FC, and slowly and steadily in the past three years has cemented his place in the club

Thapa now has played 21 games in the Indian blue jersey and has managed to score two goals already, from his position in central midfield.

When the 21-year-old Thapa plays, he clearly looks too mature for his age. He plays at the heart of the midfield, and carries it on his shoulders. He acts as the link between the defence and the forward line. His vision to find accurate passes, and deadly long balls ins evident in each and every game, and he manages to find the odd goal here and there too.

He has a strong right foot, and is the number one player in the squad to take corners and free kicks, sometimes even ahead of captain Sunil Chhetri.

Lallianzuala Chhangte

Having graduated from the same batch of the Pailan Arrows as Anirudh Thapa, Chhangte is another midfielder that has been on the radar of coach Stimac.

However, Chhangte is a much different style of player than Thapa. A more attack minded midfielder, he can also play in the wings. His most gifted quality, however, is his pace.

Having been trained by Liverpool’s youth coaches, Chhangte can run at a speed of 35.8 km per hour, a speed which is higher than even Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo. He also has the knack of scoring goals, having already registered four goals to his name in just nine appearances for the national side.

He currently plays for ISL side Delhi Dynamos, and have been an asset for them in attacking midfield, having scored eight goals in 36 games. Chhangte has also trained with Norweigan side Viking FC.

Udanta Singh

The youngster has been the pillar for his side Bengaluru FC in reaching the ISL finals this time, having netted five times for the side, in addition to assisting four.

Even skipper Sunil Chhetri has been all praise for the 23-year old. But his performances for his national side has not been up to the mark. He has just scored one goal in 21 games for India, his only goal coming vs Taipei in the Intercontinental Cup in 2018.

Udanta is a right winger, who likes to dash in forward with his blistering pace, and cross the ball, and thus has a large number of assists in his club career. His forum going into the qualifiers is good considering his brilliant performance in the ISL.

The youngster can start in the first eleven and prove a major cog in the wheel of India’s fortunes

Ashique Kuruniyan

The 22-year-old midfielder form Kerala has had quite a lot of ups and downs in his career. After plying his trade under the talent hunt scheme of the Kerala Football Association, he was picked up the Pune Academy, which ultimately turned into the FC Pune City academy in 2016.

Here, Kuruniyan was spotted by Villareal scouts, and he was selected to play for the C team of Villareal, a side in the Spanish La Liga. He even went to play three matches for them and score a goal. However, he suffered a freak hamstring injury and that made him return to India, and continue playing for FC Pune City in the ISL.

For FC Pune City, he has played 26 games in the past two seasons, having become a regular starter in the 2018-19 season. He has also managed to score two goals from his position as a box to box midfielder.

Kuruniyan, like Anirudh Thapa too can spot a player from a mile and make key passes. But what sets his game apart is the fact that he can sit in the box and help the defenders do their job as he can stop opposition runs with his tackles and big physical presence.

Kuruniyan is also deadly in front of goal, finding the net in the limited opportunities that he gets.

For India, he has made only 12 appearances, and he is exactly the player that Stimac can count on in his midfield, an area where the Indian team is seriously lacking.