Indian football returns to the field with a clash against Singapore

After months of federation politics, allegations and counter-allegations, uncertainty over the future of the chief coach and the risk of being an international pariah, the Indian football team will return to action on Saturday when they take on Singapore in a three-nation friendly tournament in Ho Chi Minh City.

Since May, the focus in Indian football has largely been on off-field affairs given the goings-on within the All India Football Federation. But with a new body now in place, and the technical committee extending the contract of coach Igor Stimac until the end of the Asian Cup, India can finally start its preparation for next year’s continental championship.

But it begins in a far-from-ideal situation. Even though most of the players have had a proper pre-season with their clubs, India go into the match against Singapore slightly under-cooked, having had just one full training session under Stimac before heading to Vietnam. To add to their problems, defenders Sandesh Jhingan and Chinglensana Singh are unlikely to be available for selection against Singapore.

The two did not accompany the team due to travel document-related issues and only boarded a 3 am flight on Friday. Stimac is likely to rest Jhingan, a key center-back, on Saturday and start him against Vietnam, a team that reached the quarter-finals of the 2019 Asian Cup, on Tuesday.

India last played Singapore 10 years ago and although Stimac was confident of winning the game, he was cautious and underlined the progress the South East Asian side has made in the last few years.

“Singapore has made great progress in recent years. They have a new coach, who has made some changes in the system that often makes things difficult for the opponents. But I will tell my players to play confidently against them and show what exactly we have in store for them,” Stimac said.

Singapore, he added, are good “especially in the high-pressing area”, which could be a problem for India as Stimac conceded that his team’s fitness at the moment isn’t as good as their opponents’.

“(But) I think that we have enough players with technical ability who can find a way to escape from such high pressure, and with many players in the middle making it tight and difficult. But we are going to find spaces on the weak positions and play as per our plan,” Stimac said.

This will be the first time India will be in action since their successful campaign in the AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers in June where they played three matches and finished with a hundred percent win record.

And while Singapore is an opponent India will be expected to beat, their next game against Vietnam will prove to be a tricky affair and show how much progress the team has made in the last few years under Stimac.

Playing on Saturday: India vs Singapore, 5.30pm, Live on Eurosport

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