Sahal Abdul Samad Likely to be Sidelined for Asian Cup Campaign

Sahal Abdul Samad
Sahal Abdul Samad (Source: AIFF)

Web Desk

Sahal Abdul Samad, who picked up a grade-1 ankle sprain after a horror tackle from Ahmed Jahouh a month ago, is unlikely to play any part in India’s upcoming Asian Cup campaign. Unlike other key, injury-hit players – Jeakson Singh and Anwar Ali, to name just two – Sahal was named in the squad, but that was more to do with the fact that the team’s medical staff wanted to monitor his recovery over the next month ahead of crucial World Cup qualifiers, home and away, against Afghanistan in March.

Sahal, whose form for Mohun Bagan Super Giant had been central to their strong start to the Indian Super League (ISL) season, probably won’t be risked, especially with all three of India’s group games – against Australia (January 13), Uzbekistan (January 18) and Syria (January 23) likely to be intensely physical affairs. Igor Stimac and his coaching staff are looking at Rahul KP, who played alongside Sahal at Kerala Blasters, as a short-term solution for the roaming second forward who would play behind Sunil Chhetri.

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Rahul scored a wonder goal against China at the Asian Games, but has yet to net in 10 ISL appearances this season. The other viable option, according to those keeping close tabs on India’s training in Doha, is Lallianzuala Chhangte. The Mumbai City man is quick to cover ground, skilful on the ball and full of energy. In terms of closing down and lasting the 90 minutes, he’s a better fit than Brandon Fernandes.

The other, defensive, choice would be to have a left-flank pairing of Akash Mishra in front of Subhasish Bose. Mishra’s marauding runs down the flank can hurt teams, and India’s think tank is also exploring the idea of Naorem Mahesh or Liston Colaco in that position.

With creativity not India’s strength and Chhetri likely to be starved of service against teams that dominate possession, Sahal’s skills could be sorely missed. But this also gives Chhangte an opportunity to make more of an impact centrally. If nothing else, the element of surprise should stand India in good stead ahead of what is arguably their toughest outing – the clash against Australia.   

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