Seven of the Indian football players who are to play in an international friendly match against higher-ranked Bahrain on Wednesday could not travel along with the team from Mumbai due to visa issues.
Eighteen players out of the 25-member squad as well as head coach Igor Stimac and the support staff reached Manama on Monday, where the national team is to play international friendlies against hosts Bahrain on Wednesday and against Belarus on Saturday.
Goalkeeper Amrinder Singh, defender Chinglensana Singh and Akash Mishra and midfielders Anirudh Thapa, Brandon Fernandes, Aniket Yadav and Bipin Singh could not board the flight along with their team-mates on Monday as their visa approval did not come on time.
"We faced difficulties in our travel. Seven players (out of 25) are left out in Mumbai, still waiting for their visa approval which we had applied two months ago," Stimac said in a virtual press conference.
"Hopefully, they will by today get the permission (visa approval) and fly out from there (Mumbai) and join the squad by tonight. Otherwise, we can't be optimistic that they will be involved in the match tomorrow." Stimac is unsure about the strategy he will employ on Wednesday against a strong side like Bahrain if the seven players are not available for the match.
"I don't know what I will do in such a circumstance. I have to see how many players are available at the end of the day here at Manama. (If the seven are not available, I will try to put the best available XI and try few things," he said.
An All India Football Federation (AIFF) source, however, said that the visa issue of the seven players will be sorted and they will be reaching Manama on Tuesday itself. "All seven players should fly out of Mumbai by today itself and reach in Manama by evening there (IST ahead of Bahrain local time by two and half hours). There should not be any problem," the source told PTI.
India has never beaten Bahrain in its football history, the drawn match (0-0) in 1982 being its best result so far. In the last meeting between the two sides in the 2019 Asian Cup in the UAE, Bahrain had emerged victorious through a stoppage-time goal from a spot kick. Till then, India under Stephen Constantine was on the verge of booking a historic knock-out berth in the Asian Cup.