Blue Tigers, Out in hunt for ASIA's most coveted trophy “AFC ASIAN CUP”

The Indian National Football Team fondly known as The Blue Tigers are days away from playing in the 18th edition of "AFC ASIAN CUP", the continent's most prestigious international football tournament. India, runners up in the 1964 edition, is setting it sights high after back to back Asian Cup qualification for the first time in its history. With the rise of footballing culture in the country, fans are optimistic of a positive campaign as India face Australia, Uzbekistan and Syria. India qualified for their 5th and the latest campaign by winning all the group stage matches in style where they defeated Cambodia, Afghanistan and Hong Kong and entered the tournament as one of the group winners.

2023 was a very successful year for Indian Football Team as they won the Tri-Nation Series, SAFF Championship 2023 and The Hero Intercontinental Cup 2023 all on the home soil. They also began their 2026 FIFA Round 2 world cup qualification on a positive note as they defeated a strong Kuwait Side 1-0 at Kuwait City, which heightened the hopes of Indian Footballing fraternity.

With footballing hopes of a nation of 1.3 billion soaring high at the start of the new year, Igor Stimac, Indian Football Team head coach, on the basis of performance of the last year and in accordance with his gameplans has named a 26 man squad that will be fighting for India's glory at the international stage in the 18th edition of the AFC ASIAN CUP, hosted in Qatar.


1. Gurpreet Singh Sandhu : –

India No. 1 for the past decade has been a no-brainer as the first name up for selection . Sandhu defines perfection. His selection has never raised any eyebrows, but the 31 year shot stopper has not been in a good form for his club although it's a different debate that his defense has not helped him either. Though having 67% save percentage for his club, Bengaluru has conceded 19 goals already halfway through the season. Gurpreet has always been a player who has excelled in important games for both club and country. He is also averaging 15 accurate passes per game and a long ball distribution accuracy of 55% for the current season. With physically superior opponents, his aerial prowess in ball collection ability and thereby launching accurate long balls to the forwards in short time will play a crucial role in Igor Stimac`s counter attacking strategy.

2. Amrinder singh :-

One of the most underrated goalkeepers in the country for a long time. A 2 time ISL golden glove winner and a veteran for big matches, Amrinder has reinvented his gameplay the current season under the tutelage of Sergio Lobera. This 2023-24 ISL season has enabled him to record a save percentage of almost 72%. Reflexes are his most valuable asset, making him a critical shot stopper from difficult angles. Amrinder holds the potential to start in any of the three group stage match over GSS.

3. Vishal Kaith :-

Vishal Kaith burst into the Indian footballing scene with Shillong Lajong in 2014. A decade of hardwork and perseverance, Kaith has finally rose to prominence after winning the 2022-2023 ISL golden glove with Mohun Bagan having 12 clean sheets to his name. From a shot-stopping abilities to rotating the possession quickly to accurate long balls, Vishal Kaith has proved time and again that he excels in all the qualities. He has an impressive shot stopping rate of 70% and playing for a club that encourages creating attacks from back, his ball distribution on the ground is very good with a passing accuracy of almost 90%. Vishal should be Igor's go-to custodian if India decides to play possession based football.



1. Sandesh Jhingan :-

Undoubtedly, The best Indian defender of the last decade, Indian NT defence is incomplete without Sandesh Jhingan . Having a perfect balance between physicality and pace, Jhingan posses the ability to outclass any opponent if supported rightly. He is a no nonsense defender who knows how to do his job with perfection. Alongside defence, Jhingan also has a knack of popping up in the D-box during corners and set pieces often adding to a goal threat. His main strengths are physicality and tackling with which he troubles the opponents . In the 2023/24 ISL season, Jhingan along with Odei Onaindia has created a defensive pairing for The Gaurs that has conceded just 4 goals in 10 matches while keeping 6 clean sheets. He must be one of the regular names in the starting XI in the Asian Cup where India will go head to head with some of the continent`s elites.

2. Subhasish Bose :-

Subhashish Bose's defensive work rate is probably the reason he features so frequently in Stimac's plans. Having an ability to run up and down the wings thoroughly for 90 mins ensures he lists his name in comparison with some of the best left backs of the country. Averaging almost 2 interceptions and 2 tackles per game as well as 6 ball recoveries and 3 clearances, Bose has been a steady ship in a Mohun Bagan defence that has otherwise seen big names falter in a season of high expectations. Stimac will be looking for a stubborn no nonsense defender against Australia in the opening match.

3. Nikhil Poojary :-

A comparative late bloomer, Nikhil Poojary's all round performance in the right flank has ensured him as one of the best right backs in the country. Defending one on one situations and pin point crosses are his trademark moves. In a wretched season, Poojary is one of the bright spots for this dark Hyderabad side. He has a great set of skills as well as passing range which increases attacking output from his side. His link up play with Chhangte or Manvir will play an important role down the right hand side for the National team. One of the greatest ability that Poojary has developed lately is making timely runs in the attacking third alongwith tracking back along the rhythm of the team to defend a counter attack. He can run up and down the field with constant intensity throughout the match. Poojary's stats speak volumes of his gameplay where he notches up almost 67 touches per game and a passing accuracy of 76% which is pretty good for a defender. He is expected to start in the right back role if Stimac opts for attacking full backs.

4. Mehtab Singh :-

One of the best young center backs in the country in the last 2 years, Mehtab has held the hull strongly for his club, Mumbai City and India. Consistency with ruthless defending are his trademark moves. Currently plying his trade with Mumbai City FC, he played a crucial role in Mumbai's title winning run in ISL 2022-23 where he helped Mumbai go on a 18 matches unbeaten streak. His ball playing ability from the back makes him an asset. He averages about 72 touches per game with a passing accuracy of 85% averaging 1 interception and 3 tackles per game. He also possesses an indomitable presence in aerial duels which helps him in scoring goals during set pieces. He is expected to start alongside Sandesh Jhingan at the center of defense.

5. Akash Mishra :-

Hailing from Uttar Pradesh, a comparatively lesser known state for football, Akash Mishra's meteoric rise to the top of One of the best left backs of the country has been a scintillating yet resilient story. Mishra's breakthrough season with Hyderabad in 2021 raised quite some eyebrows as the lanky side back scored two goals. Mishra provides a lot with his forward runs coupled with a massive attacking output. His link up play with wingers and crossing ability is of great asset for the National team. Averaging about 1 interception and 4 ball recoveries per game, he is the preferred option for Igor Stimac to start in the left back position.

6. Lalchungnunga :-

The Indian center back from Aizwal has been a sensation since his debut with East Bengal FC. He is the go to Indian centre back option for his club team and has made an impression under Stimac with the national team in a makeshift Asian Games campaign in September. Averaging 1 clearances and 2 interceptions per game, Lalchungunga is expected to be one of the options to come off from bench. 

7. Pritam Kotal :-

A decade old name who defines leadership in defending, Pritam Kotal can be a vital cog in Indian squad. His leadership skills makes him an asset for any coach. Having a variety of experience throughout his career in I league and ISL, Pritam's positional flexibility hands his Coach options to deploy him in various roles along the defensive line. He makes about 50 passes a game with a passing accuracy of 78% averaging about 3 interceptions and 2 clearances per game. His defensive stats are impressive as well where  having won more than 70% of his duels in the ISL 2023/24 season. If Stimac has to lead a stubborn backline alongside Sandesh, Pritam Kotal can be an asset for the right back position.

8. Rahul Bheke :-

Rahul Bheke signifies being one of the most underrated defenders of the country who just does their job quitely and doesn't even come under the floodlights. He has been leading Mumbai City FC for the past 2 seasons and has been an integral part of the backline irrespective of whether he has to play in Centre back, right back or left back. He is one of those versatile players in this Indian squad who can turn up with a decent performance even on his team's bad day. Averaging about 64 passes in a game with an passing accuracy of 84%, Bheke is one of the most calm and composed player in the field. He also gives about 5 long balls per game with 5 ball recoveries and 3 clearances per game. 'Bhekenbauer' as tauntingly called by his team mates is certainly the ace up the sleeve of Igor Stimac.


1. Anirudh Thapa :-

Probably the best Indian central midfielder for the last few years, Aniruddh Thapa is the quintessential midfield player. His overall work rate, passing, moving forward in right time or set pieces are balanced in equal conjunctures. After joining Mohun Bagan in 2023, he has been mainly deployed as a defensive midfielder which is quite different from what he used to play for Chennaiyin FC or India team. Physicality is an aspect he lacks in and can be exposed against physically superior opponents but Thapa covers it up with his immaculate work rate and impeccable service to both ends of the field, defence and forward line. He boasts an impressive stat of 56 passes per game with a passing efficiency of 80% averaging 2 interceptions and 5.4 ball recoveries per game. Thapa's versatility and work rate surely makes him one of the starting names on the team sheet for the National team in central midfield.

2. Sahal Abdul Samad :-

Perhaps the most glamorous and glittering name in the Asian Cup squad, Sahal Abdul Samad has time and again brought up the debate of being the best attacking midfielder of the country in this century. The flair and flamboyance Sahal carries on field is a live example of how good a player can be if his grassroot training is perfect. Sahal who was born to Indian parents in Al-Ain, UAE and trained his footballing skills in the Al-Etihad academy as a kid. His creativity and shooting ability makes him an impeccable asset for his team and a looming threat for the opposition. He can create goal-scoring chances for his forwards out of nothing and his deft one touch football takes out the opposition out of position. In his best days, Sahal Samad is the biggest threat in the Indian team that the opposition fears. It is to be seen whether Stimac starts him or subs in from the bench as he sustained an injury in the 2023/24 ISL season. Either way Sahal Samad is expected to make an impact to change the complexity of the match.

3. Liston Colaco :-

Liston Colaco carriers a trait of long lost Goan players. A game of flamboyance and pace, Colaco reminds us with the like of old school Goan starlets like Bruno Coutinho.  With swift touches and deft dribbling, he can destroy any opponent on his day. Averaging about 3 shots on goal per game with 2 on target, He has provided a significant in the attacking half with 58% of his dribbling take ons won. Bagging 3 goals and 3 assists for MBSG in the 2023/24 season, he is expected to be one of the first names on the team sheet on that left wing position.

4. Deepak Tangri :-

A defensive midfielder who excels in destruction of opposition play, Tangri is slowly developing into a player with the right interceptions at the right moment. Tangri recently made his comeback to football after almost a year after sustaining an ACL injury. He adapts well with Igor Stimac's gameplan as a useful reserve player so he has been selected for the squad. Besides being a defensive midfielder he can be deployed as a centre back. Averaging a paas accuracy of 67%, Tangri also makes about 2 ball recoveries and and 1 clearances per game. He is expected to come off the bench.

5. Udanta Singh :-

The pacey winger from Manipur is an old name in the national team. Having experience in the previous edition of the Asian Cup will help him lead youngsters to calm their nerves. Udanta excels in crossing or getting at the end of a cross often playing 1-2 with a side back or extra midfielder. He has an excellent ability to track-back to help his sidebacks create numerical supremacy while defending. After eight long seasons with Bengaluru FC, Udanta has made the switch to FC Goa in a move to rediscover his lost glaze. It's fair to say he has had a fair start with 60% dribbling success rate churning out 3 crosses per game.  He is expected to come off the bench alongwith start matches if circumstances need him to.

6. Brandon Fernandes :-

The most experienced figure in  Indian midfield, Brandon Fernandes is a man that Stimac has to use very carefully. His passing ability, set-piece accuracy, creativity are all top notch but what separates him from others is his pin point long ball delivery. Brandon specialises in accurate long balls anywhere between the range of 50-60 yards. He can create havoc if given freedom to operate freely in the heart of the midfield. He is expected to pair up with Sahal to rack up goal-scoring chances for the forwards. Fernandes excelled in his passing game with 50 passes per game. Boasting an accuracy of 87%, he also averages about 6 ball recoveries per game. He is for sure one of the first names on the team sheet for India. 

7. Mahesh Singh Naorem :-

The man with a magical left foot, Naorem Mahesh Singh metoric rise deserves some praise from all quarters of Indian football. A quiet player at the 2017 U17 world cup, Naorem Mahesh reinvented his form domestically and internationally in 2023. He can deliver crosses, can score goals and trouble opposition defence. Against Malaysia his 1st time volley goal was a treat to the eyes. His exceptional dribbling skills, vision, and ability to create goal-scoring opportunities are some of the natural raw traits Igor will look to in the Asian Cup. He has 2 goals and 2 assists to his name in 2023/24 ISL season and Indian Football fans will hope to get him back to his known form to the National colours.

8. Suresh Singh Wangjam :-

One of the front-runners for the central-midfield position, Suresh Singh Wangjam is a tireless warrior who never gives up. He has the passing ability, defensive ability and most importantly can run with same intensity through-out the 90 minutes. Suresh's inclusion over seasoned performers in the Asian Cup squad emphasizes Stimac's preference on tenacity and consistency. Suresh averages about 6 ball recoveries and 1 clearances per game in the league. He can easily be a starter option, but it is highly unlikely that Igor opts to start him over Anirudh Thapa. However we might see a mix in tactics like the Qatar game where Igor opted for both. 

9. Lalengmawia Ralte :-

With the unavailability of Jeakson Singh, coach Stimac was forced to make amends with Apuia and the dimutative Manipuri midfielder was brought back into the national team hurdle. Apuia's league statistics over the last two season defines why he is the best defensive midfielder in the country alongside Jeakson Singh. Under Des Buckingham's system, Apuia's contribution has been immense in a midfield consisting of big guns like Van Nieff. Alongside his defensive responsibilities, Apuia's attacking output increased leaps and bounds having already registered 1 goal and 1 assist to his name in the 2023/24 season. Averaging 58 passes per game with a passing accuracy of 90%, Apuiah is also an expert in orchestrating attacks from behind with an accuracy of 80% in long balls. He is expected to start alongside Anirudh Thapa in the heart of midfield.


1. Sunil Chhetri :- 

“Captain, Leader, Legend” - There is no better superlative phrase to describe the ingenious that Sunil Chettri is. 18 years and still counting there was no doubt regarding his participation in what possibly can be his last major run in Asia. There is no current or former player on the subcontinent who comes close to him regarding his contributions in Indian Colors. At 39, he is playing like an well-oiled machine , from scoring goals to winning duels upfront to create chances for other players to score , he can do it all. Come sun, Come rain, Sunil Chettri will be the main man for India. He has been the lone burning light at the end of the tunnel in the last two decades for Indian football.

2. Manvir Singh :- 

The lanky winger from Punjab is an asset for any team. His pace, trickery and shooting ability coupled with delivering crosses makes him a perfect forward player. With 3 goals and 4 assists to his name in the 2023/24 ISL season, Manvir has reignited his form with a tinge of maturity. Manvir's form in national team colors have been terrific as lately he scored the winning goal against a strong Kuwait side away from home. Manvir can be useful from the right side for India , where Igor Stimac prefers him the most. His dribbling ability and use of both feet rightly will come in very handy against technically superior opponents. He is also capable of making an impact after coming on from the bench, though he is expected to be one of the starting names in the India XI.  

3. Ishan Pandita :-

As belovedly dubbed asThe super sub”, There is no clutch player more impactful than him after coming off from the bench. Countless instances domestically and internationally since his breakthrough season with FC Goa in 2020 prove his ability as a clutch goal scorer coming off from the bench. One such instance in national colors was seen when he hammered the final pin in Hong Kong`s coffin scoring the 4th goal after coming off from the bench in the 76th minute in India`s AFC Asian Cup qualifying campaign`s third round. He might not be having a great season now with Kerala Blasters but he is one of the players that suits the India coach Igor Stimac's system. Pandita can be a great option of coming on for Sunil Chhetri in the closing stages of the game to change the complexion of the match.

4. Lallianzuala Chhangte :-

Lallianzuala Chhangte has been dubbed as the poster boy of Indian football in the past year. From scoring important goals or setting up teammates beautifully after playing one touch passes, his impact has been felt the most last year both in club and national colors. His heroics with Mumbai City FC in ISL 2022-23 earned him the ISL Golden Ball award as the best player of the league. With 8 goals and 6 assists in the last calendar year , he is expected to  carry his bright run of form in the AFC Asian Cup. Chhangte will be deputed to cause havoc for opponents with his pacy runs and deft crosses into the D-box. Crossing and shooting are the biggest assets Chhangte possesses apart from blistering pace that Igor Stimac must use wisely to outclass opponents.

5. Rahul Kannoly Praveen :-

A rather young forward with high inspirations, Rahul K.P's pace and dribbling ability makes him a great options on the wing. In the absence of key players for KBFC, he has started to get into the starting XI, but his output stats are very low.  But for some cases stats don't says it all; it's the impact he has during his stay on the field. With his pace and trickery, he can go past 2-3 opponents with ease and can deliver a well-measured cross or sometimes a shot too. His low pile driver from a narrow angle against China in the Guangzhou Asian Games proved that he is not to settle for the regulars. Stimac has his own plans regarding him for this tournament. He is expected to come from bench in some matches .

6. Vikram Pratap Singh :-

One of the most exciting young players India have in recent times, Vikram Pratap Singh holds the potential to be the first of his kind. Be it his pace or shooting ability, he can make impact in games. Initially a striker on his early days, he is mostly deployed in wings where he uses his pace and dribbling ability to go past opponents before laying a cross for teammates. Vikram Pratap has made the cut in a star studded Mumbai team sealing his place in the first Xi. He already has 1 goal and 1 assist to his name this season and his impact has been more than expected. It is expected that Stimac will use him from the wings to create problems for opponents.


Though all these players have been selected on the basis of Coach's gameplan and past year's performance, We believe a few changes could have been made to this squad. The likes of Puitia, Kiyan Nassiri, Danish Farooq, Chinglensana Singh, Parthib Gogoi, Bikash Yumnam, Bipin Singh, Hormipam Ruivah could have been integrated in the squad. 

MBFT suggested Formations :-

We wish Indian Football Team, "All the Best" for the AFC Asian Cup 2023.  
Follow MBFT on TwitterFacebookInstagramYoutube, Telegram & Whatsapp to stay updated with all the Mohun Bagan News & Updates. Joy Mohun Bagan !

Previous Post Next Post