Chhetri returns as Indian football team leaves for Doha for WC Qualifiers

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New Delhi, May 19 (PTI) Talismanic captain Sunil Chhetri made a return after recovering from COVID-19 infection as a 28-member Indian football squad leaves for Doha on Wednesday for the three upcoming matches of the joint 2022 World Cup and 2023 Asian Cup Qualifiers.

The team will have a preparatory camp inside a bio-bubble in Doha before its first match on June 3 against hosts Qatar.

After missing the two international friendly matches against Oman and the UAE on March 25 and 29, Chhetri is set to feature in the forthcoming games.

As per the health parameters required to travel to Qatar, all the players and staff will carry with them negative results from the RT-PCR COVID-19 tests conducted in the last 48 hours.

Prior to their departure, all of them were serving quarantine in the national capital since May 15.

FC Goa midfielder Glan Martins is the lone face to make it to the India squad for the first time, while the likes of winger Udanta Singh, Brandon Fernandes, Pronoy Halder and Abdul Sahal also made a return to the national team setup.

Midfielders Jeakson Singh, Raynier Fernandes and Halicharan Narzary, who were in the 27-member squad for the international friendlies in March, missed out this time, as did forward Hitesh Sharma.

Defenders Rahul Bheke, Narender Gehlot and Subhashish Bose were back in the squad while Ashutosh Mehta, Mandar Rao Dessai and Mashoor Shereef were left out.

Head coach Igor Stimac opted for three goalkeepers and Subhasish Roy Chowdhury missed out.

The Indian team, fourth in Group E with three points, is already out of contention for a World Cup berth but it is still in the reckoning for the 2023 Asian Cup in China. Stimac stated that although it is not the 'ideal situation' ahead of the June Qualifiers, the Blue Tigers will be putting in 'intense' sessions during the camp before their matches get underway.

'It's not an ideal situation as we move ahead to the Qualifiers in June. Due to the pandemic, our national camp which was slated to begin in Kolkata at the beginning of May had to get cancelled.

'The pandemic also robbed us of a friendly match in Dubai,' Stimac said.

India's fixtures: June 3: India vs Qatar (10.30pm IST).

June 7: Bangladesh vs India (7.30pm IST).

June 15: India vs Afghanistan (7.30pm IST).

The Squad: Goalkeepers: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Amrinder Singh, Dheeraj Singh.

Defenders: Pritam Kotal, Rahul Bheke, Narender Gehlot, Chinglensana Singh, Sandesh Jhingan, Adil Khan, Akash Mishra, Subhashish Bose.

Midfielders: Udanta Singh, Brandon Fernandes, Liston Colaco, Rowllin Borges, Glan Martins, Anirudh Thapa, Pronoy Halder, Suresh Singh, Lalengmawia Ralte, Abdul Sahal, Yasir Mohammad, Lallianzuala Chhangte, Bipin Singh, Ashique Kuruniyan.

Forwards: Ishan Pandita, Sunil Chhetri, Manvir Singh. PTI AH PDS KHS KHS

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