About a week back, the Indian football team had announced their 29-man squad for preparatory camp ahead of their home leg fixture against Bangladesh in Round 2 of the FIFA World Cup 2022 Qualifiers.
The list featured the names of regulars Sunil Chhetri, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Sandesh Jhingan as well as those of rising youngsters Manvir Singh, Abdul Sahal, Brandon Fernandes. Rahul Bheke, who impressed in the Indian Super League (ISL) this season at Bengaluru FC and has since broken into the national team, was also named in the squad.
On Wednesday, just a week after the squad was announced, the Indian football team Twitter handle confirmed that Bheke would not be able to join the preparatory camp due to an injury. But the nature or extent of the injury was not specified.
Bengaluru FC, the defending ISL champions, had started their pre-season camp a couple of weeks back. Under the tutelage of Carles Cuadrat, the entire squad has been preparing for the upcoming season.
Now, The Bridge has come to learn that Bheke does not have any serious injury scares at the moment. In fact, according to our sources, the defender is taking part in the club’s training sessions in Bellary.
Was it the club who did not allow the player to leave or the player who himself chose to skip the preparation camp?
The Bridge tried reaching out to the club for an official statement but could not obtain any response.
The Round 2 of World Cup qualifiers also double up as the 2023 AFC Cup qualification tournament. A good result is imperative and given that India have been grouped with Qatar and Oman, it is a difficult task. Despite a massive result against Qatar (a goalless draw) away from home, the Blue Tigers find themselves dangling in fourth place in Group E.
The defeat against Oman in Guwahati in the opening fixture could come back to haunt India if they fail to overcome Bangladesh (who are several places below in the FIFA rankings).
Off late, newly appointed national coach Igor Stimac has shown a lot of faith in Bheke. No player started more games (six) and played more minutes under Stimac than Bheke (564 minutes). Ahead of such an important fixture, his absence from the preparatory camp could be a huge blow for India.