Nearly five months after he announced his retirement from international football, defender Anas Edathodika was back in the India set up after being named in Igor Stimac’s 35-man probable squad for the upcoming Intercontinental Cup.
While it remains to be seen whether the Kerala-born central defender makes the final cut for the Intercontinental Cup, his call-up out of the blue could perhaps be a reaction to India’s fragile defence in the just concluded King’s Cup in Thailand.
The Blue Tigers ended their King’s Cup campaign with a hard-fought win over the hosts in the third-place playoff with the defence keeping a clean sheet. However, the same wasn’t the case in the previous clash against Curacao where the Indian defence was at sixes and sevens in a tumultuous first half.
Rahul Bheke’s debut for India turned out to be a forgetful one with the Bengaluru FC man looking extremely shaky on his international bow. His central defensive partnership with Sandesh Jhingan proved to be a disaster with India conceding three goals inside a span of 18 minutes in the first period.
In the game against Thailand, it was makeshift defender Adil Khan who was paired alongside Jhingan in central defence while Bheke was deployed in his more natural position of right-back. In fact, of the five defenders at Stimac’s disposal in the King’s Cup, only Jhingan can have a claim to being a natural central defender.
Quite simply, the depth just isn’t there currently in India’s central defence and therefore, Stimac’s decision to recall Anas Edathodika is not a surprising one.
“There is competition for every position on the pitch and that makes me very happy as a coach,” the Croatian had stated at the conclusion of the King’s Cup.
However, Anas’ return to the India set up just days later proves that all is not well in the defensive side of things. The Malappuram-born defender did not have the most fruitful of domestic seasons last year with Kerala Blasters in the Indian Super League (ISL) in a campaign which saw him make just eight appearances.
He isn’t the most experienced at the international level as well with just 19 caps for India so far but his central defensive partnership with his Kerala team-mate Jhingan proved to a be a promising one for previous coach Stephen Constantine.
That partnership was crucial in India’s qualification to the 2019 AFC (Asian Football Confederation) Asian Cup and it could be one Stimac could attempt to recreate for the near future. With the lack of depth in defence now becoming evident to the Croatian, it does make sense to turn towards the old guard with the important matter of the FIFA World Cup qualifiers to come later this year as well.
Stimac could just be using Anas as a stop-gap solution while he tries to groom youngsters like Anwar Ali and Narender Gehlot. But more importantly, the lack of depth means defenders have a good chance of getting into the national team if they manage to put in good performances in the upcoming season.