5 young Indians to watch out for at the AFC Asian Cup

The youngsters are an integral part of the Blue Tigers’ squad which will take on some of the toughest teams from the continent.

The AFC Asian Cup 2019 is knocking on the door as India prepare to take on Thailand on 6th January at the Al Nahyan Stadium in UAE. The Blue Tigers will feature in the competition after missing out its last edition in 2015, and all eyes will be on skipper Sunil Chhetri, who will lead them from the front.

Head coach Stephen Constantine recently named the final 23-man squad to travel to the middle-east which includes several young stars particularly from the franchises of the Indian Super League (ISL).

It is quite intriguing to know that the average age of the Indian squad is just 25 years which also makes it the joint-third youngest team in the tournament behind Iraq (24) and Vietnam (23).

The tournament will see several teenagers display their talent at their mere young ages. Let’s have a look at the young Indians who are all set to make the whole nation proud with their outstanding footballing skills-

  1. Germanpreet Singh

When the squad for the Asian Cup was announced, Singh was one of the prominent names that were included in the list. At 22, Singh has been one of the very few players at Chennaiyin FC who have shone brightly in the ISL this season, making six appearances so far.

Born in Gurdaspur district in Punjab, Germanpreet started playing professional football at a pretty young age as he signed for Goan club Dempo SC in the I-League. After spending a couple of seasons at the club, the midfielder went on to play for Minerva Punjab in 2017 from where he was picked up by the Chennai-club.

Singh is mainly known for his ball distribution skills and his accuracy in passing is quite remarkable too. Whether he will be picked up in the starting lineup by Constantine is uncertain, but it will bring joy watching the lad play for the country.

  1. Vinit Rai

Like Germanpreet, Rai too is a Tata Football Academy graduate and was even signed by Dempo back in 2014. At that time, he was the youngest first-team player at the club. From Dempo, the central midfielder went on to play for Kerala Blasters and Minerva Punjab before being picked up by another ISL franchise Delhi Dynamos in 2017.

The 21-year-old Assamese is highly regarded by several coaches from the country including his former coach from Dempo, Arthur Papas, calling him ‘a very cultured midfielder.’ Having appeared 10 times for the Dynamos under Josep Gombau, Rai will prove to be an excellent option in the midfield for Constantine during the Asian Cup.

  1. Ashique Kuruniyan

Known for his pace, outstanding technique and excellent ball skills, Ashique is a complete winger and a must-have player in any team. Back at FC Pune City, the 21-year-old is regarded as a talismanic figure in the attack and is an absolute joy to watch. No wonder he was called upon by Spanish club Villarreal to play for their C team a couple of years ago.

Ashique is an excellent option for Constantine to try out for and there have been many claims by fans to play the youngster ahead of the out-of-form Halicharan Narzary. The youngster has already capped nine times for the Blue Tigers and also scored his first goal for the country during a 2-0 win against Sri Lanka in the 2018 SAFF Championship in Bangladesh.

  1. Udanta Singh

Udanta is probably the most experienced of the lot with 13 caps for the country. At 22, the Manipuri winger has an astonishing pace and is one of the key players of Bengaluru FC in the attack. Playing alongside Chhetri for the Blues, Udanta has developed a great understanding with the skipper, and together the duo becomes a deadly one for the defenders to handle.

Udanta is much expected to feature in the starting lineup of the Blue Tigers in the Asian Cup, and his current form explains why. The former Mumbai City FC loanee has registered three goals and an assist in his 11 appearances for Carles Cuadrat’s side this season. Expectations are pretty high from Udanta as he prepares to showcase his talent for the Blue Tigers.

  1. Anirudh Thapa

Graduated from AIFF’s Elite Academy, Thapa is one of the highly-rated midfielders in the country. At the mere age of 20, he is the youngest player in the current Blue Tigers’ squad.

Playing for Chennaiyin in the ISL, Thapa has brilliantly performed till now having made 523 passes overall. Since being picked up by the ISL franchise in 2016, he was sent out on loan to Minerva Punjab where he made 14 appearances in the I-League while also netting a goal. During this time, Anirudh also had the opportunity to train with French club FC Metz for three months.

Like Udanta, Thapa too is in contention to start for the Blue Tigers as his confidence, and calm attitude towards the game is one that the team needs.