India face Oman tonight in the first of two international friendlies between now and the end of March. While Oman are way superior to India in terms of their FIFA ranking, they are ranked 81 compared to India's 104, the Blue Tigers will be confident of putting up a good showing. This is especially true because the recently concluded Indian Super League (ISL) has put forward a host of young Indian players many of whom have since been picked by Igor Stimac and are expected to make their debuts tonight. Here is our predicted starting line-up for India:
The Mumbai City custodian has been excellent between the sticks for his club this season on the way to their maiden ISL victory. He kept an impressive 10 clean sheets in 23 games and will be expected to make the cut ahead of Gurpreet Singh Sandhu. His passing ability is another factor that might help him edge his Gurpreet.
In the absence of Asish Rai, the NorthEast United right-back is the ubiquitous choice in his position for the national team. That doesn't mean he isn't deserving though. The 30-year-old Mumbai lad has had a brilliant ISL season and helped his side progress to the playoffs with quite a few fantastic displays eventually culminating in a well-taken goal of his own against Jamshedpur FC.
The versatile ATK Mohun Bagan defender has been one of the most consistent players for club and country over the last few seasons. Comfortable playing both as a centre-back and a right-back, Kotal is our pick to partner Sandesh Jhingan at the back because of the physicality and robustness that he provides.
Probably the first name on the team sheet alongside Sunil Chhetri when fit, Jhingan will be a welcome addition to the national squad after missing the entirety of the 2019-20 season. In the absence of Chhetri, he will be expected to be the vocal leader that our youngsters need beside them and has to set a good example for them on the pitch after an assured ISL season with ATK Mohun Bagan.
One of the most promising youngsters in the country, Akash Mishra is set to make his debut for the Indian team against Oman tonight if our thinking matches with Igor Stimac's. The 20-year-old is extremely confident with the ball at his feet and is always competitive without it, something that is very rare for someone his age. He will surely be looking to cement the left-back position and what better way than to start on a good note against a good Oman side.
Rowllin BorgesThe midfield metronome for Mumbai City this ISL season, Borges will once again be tasked with keeping it simple but efficient in midfield and recycling possession. Having already proved himself at club level, he will be eager to show his ability to lead the national side's midfield and is undoubtedly going to be one of the most important players on the pitch.
Lalengmawia Ralte (Apuia)
The emerging player of the season in ISL 2020-21, big things are now expected of young Apuia. His playing style should mean Rowllin and him forming a good partnership in central midfield and it will be interesting to see how he manages against the more physical Omani midfielders. However, the fact that he is on a purple patch right now should bode well for India.
The Chennaiyin FC midfield schemer is still one of the youngest players in the side, but such is the current situation that the other youngsters around him would be looking to him for inspiration. An exciting midfielder who can play multiple positions, Thapa will be looking to put behind a forgettable ISL campaign and channel all his energies towards occupying the pockets of space in and around the Omani penalty box.
Another debutant expected to feature tonight, Bipin's journey to the top is nothing if not heart-warming. The Mumbai City winger gifted his side the ISL title with the all-important goal in the final and will be expected to have a similar impact on the match tonight with his decision-making and ability to play the right pass at the right time. What remains to be seen though is whether the other newcomers, especially those in attack, can develop a decent-enough understanding amongst them to be able to trouble Oman.
Manvir Singh is probably the most improved player in terms of his overall attributes in the past two seasons. The former FC Goa attacker has now become one of ATK Mohun Bagan's main threats in front of goal and his speed and precision will come in handy against an experienced Oman defence.
Pandita is probably the one player on whom most of the Indian eyeballs will be fixed tonight. Touted as the one to eventually replace Sunil Chhetri, the youngster has been in fantastic form for FC Goa but will be still looking to get rid of the 'Super-Sub' tag that has been associated with him. What better way to do that than to start for your country and bang a couple of goals on debut..!!