Five surprise picks in India's probables for four-nation tournament
What do two near-rookies, one Spain-trained striker from Kerala, one of the best performers in domestic football over the past season, and a goalkeeper who has effectively just had 172 minutes of competitive football have in common?
They are five of the left-of-field picks by India coach Stephen Constantine, who announced a 30-member squad of probables for the four-nation international tournament -- featuring hosts India, Kenya, New Zealand and Chinese Taipei -- that Mumbai is likely to host in June, as preparation for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup.
Ashique Kuruniyan (20) - Forward
Ashique's elevation to the national team seems a logical conclusion to a rising stock in Indian football over the past two seasons. As a product of the FC Pune City Academy (formerly under Pune FC), Ashique had gone to La Liga club Villarreal's third team on loan in the autumn of 2016, and was the only player apart from goalkeeper Vishal Kaith that Pune retained ahead of the 2017 Indian Super League (ISL) player draft. Ashique made seven starts and two appearances off the bench for them, scoring his maiden ISL goal during the 5-0 demolition of NorthEast United in December 2017. He impressed with his ability to play along the wings as well as through the centre when required, and quickly developed an understanding with Alfaro and Marcelinho. The man from Malappuram can only get better if he can improve his shooting accuracy.
Dhanapal Ganesh (23) - Defensive midfielder
Ganesh has actually played for India before, picked in the World Cup qualification matches early on during Constantine's latest stint. But he missed most of India's games in 2016 and 2017, as Rowllin Borges cemented his place in central midfield. His last appearance for India came as a second-half substitute for Borges in the 1-0 win away against Myanmar in the Asian Cup qualifiers in March 2017.
After that he played a pivotal role in helping Chennaiyin FC to their second ISL crown, playing all but two of their 19 matches. His nine yellow cards were part of the reason why he missed the matches, but they also hold the key to his doggedness in midfield, where he likes to impose himself physically. He also scored two vital goals -- a late winner in the 2-1 win over Bengaluru FC in the league stages, and then one of the three goals in the home leg of the semi-final win over FC Goa. His role in marking Sunil Chhetri out for a majority of the final was critical in Chennaiyin's 3-2 win in the final. In the absence of an injured Eugeneson Lyngdoh, the Indian setup is crying out for a no-nonsense player like Ganesh to step in and give Constantine's team an added dimension.
Subhasish Bose (22) - Full-back/centre-back
Two years ago, Subhasish Bose was playing at left-back for I-League club Sporting Clube de Goa, and his consistency in that position got him a chance to play for Mohun Bagan the following season. He would make that position his own, and those performances for Bagan, particularly in matches against Bengaluru FC, saw coach Albert Roca seek him out in the ISL players' draft in 2017-18. His ability to join in attack in his maiden ISL season set him apart. Part of this could be that he began football as a striker, and only switched to left-back late in his days at the Pune FC academy. This natural inclination to attack could make him a valuable component of the way Constantine likes his teams to put pressure on the opposition along the wings.
Davinder Singh (22) - Full-back
Right-back Davinder had an eventful 2017 -- picked from the Punjab University team for the Indian U-23 team for the AFC Championship qualifiers, his performance in Singapore saw a call-up for the national team, though he didn't get any game time during the tri-nation series against Mauritius and St Kitts & Nevis in Mumbai last year. Davinder had a longer stint with Mumbai City FC in the ISL, and eight appearances for Mumbai included four starts, his aerial threat on set-pieces standing out in addition to his cussed defending.
Sanjiban Ghosh (26) - Goalkeeper
One of the surprise picks for the 30-member probables, Ghosh was stand-in goalkeeper for Subrata Pal during the ISL for Jamshedpur FC. When Paul was sent off after just eight minutes in the season's last game against FC Goa, Ghosh came on and conceded three in his only appearance for Jamshedpur through the ISL. He redeemed himself with a virtuoso performance in the Super Cup round of 16 against I-League champions Minerva Punjab, effecting several saves in regulation time, before pulling off two crucial stops in the penalty shootout to take Jamshedpur to the quarterfinals.
Picked ahead of consistent performers and former India internationals like Subrata, Karanjit Singh (Chennaiyin FC) and Subhasish Roy Chowdhury (Kerala Blasters), Ghosh joins Gurpreet Sandhu, Vishal Kaith and Amrinder Singh among the probables, and it would be interesting to see if he can grab his chance and replace any of them in the pecking order.