Sunil Chhetri is the only big name in the 18-member Indian squad for the Hangzhou Asian Games, as the All India Football Federation (AIFF) has finally managed to cobble together a second-string team. There is still uncertainty over whether head coach Igor Stimac will accompany the team. Most Indian Super League (ISL) clubs have refused to release the 22 players named in the Indian squad for the Hangzhou Asian Games, as the football competition schedule of the games clashes with the start of the ISL on September 21. AIFF president and BJP leader Kalyan Chaubey’s efforts to send the Indian football team to the Hangzhou Asian Games despite not meeting the government criteria could be seen as a massive loss of face. After prolonged negotiations, the AIFF was able to announce an under-strength team made up of nine players from the original 22, including Sunil Chhetri, while the remaining players were inexperienced players from the clubs. There are doubts whether head coach Igor Stimac will travel to Hangzhou to lead the under-strength Indian football team at the Asian Games. Stimac had earlier said that the Asian Games was a priority for him, but it is unclear whether he will be willing to take charge of a team that is missing many of its top players. The AIFF initially announced a 17-member squad for the Asian Games, but later added Mohun Bagan defender Deepak Tangri to the squad. This could be a rare instance of India sending an under-strength football team to a major competition. The only saving grace is the inclusion of Sunil Chhetri, who is the current Indian football poster boy. The two other senior footballers, defender Sandesh Jhingan and goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, were not released by their clubs. This is a major blow to the Indian team, as both Jhingan and Sandhu are experienced players who would have been key to the team’s chances of success. The Indian football team will begin their campaign at the Hangzhou Asian Games with a match against China on September 19.
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