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Kolkata my choice for June game against Kuwait: India coach Igor Stimac | Football News

Igor Stimac said on Thursday that Kolkata was his preferred venue for the crucial World Cup qualifier against Kuwait on June 6. “This is a city where you feel the buzz. We did during the Asian Cup qualifiers (in 2022),” the India head coach said on the sidelines of a sports conclave where he was one of the participants.

India's head coach Igor Stimac(AP)
India’s head coach Igor Stimac(AP)

The Salt Lake stadium can hold almost 66,000 people and Stimac wants the crucial match on which could hinge India’s chances of making the third round of the 2026 qualifiers, to be at a venue where the crowd can be a decisive factor against the away team. The match should be “at a venue where a big crowd can push us to victory,” Stimac had told the technical committee of the All India Football Federation (AIFF) last month.

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India beat Kuwait 1-0 in November and if they avoid defeat in the return tie, it could mean a first-ever third round berth in the World Cup qualification cycle. It will also assure India of 10 competitive games and seal qualification to the 2027 Asian Cup finals in Saudi Arabia.

AIFF president Kalyan Chaubey has said that in matters of the national team the suggestion of the head coach will be supreme. On Thursday, Chaubey and Stimac were part of a panel discussion in Kolkata where they refuted reports of a rift between them. Stimac and Chaubey were also seen speaking after the session.

Apart from Kolkata, Hyderabad and a venue in Maharashtra are in the fray to host that game, Chaubey has said. Stimac said he appreciated that different cities wanted to host the national team but said new venues could be explored “after we qualify for the third round.”

Should Kolkata not be able to host, Stimac said he would like to play Kuwait in Bengaluru where India won the SAFF Championship in 2023. Monsoon has been cited as reason for Kolkata not getting the game though usually it hits the city later. Also, the Asian Cup qualifiers in 2022 were held here in the second week of June with India playing their last match against Hong Kong on June 14.

On Thursday, Stimac also announced a long list of 35 probables for the World Cup qualifiers against Afghanistan on March 21 (away in Saudi Arabia) and on March 26 (Guwahati). Amey Ranawade, Imran Khan, Isak Vanlalruatfela and Jay Gupta are the new names on the list. Goalkeeper Phurba Lachenpa too has been named but he has and got leave for personal reason, an official in the senior team said.

AIFF president Kalyan Chaubey with India coach Igor Stimac(Dhiman Sarkar)
AIFF president Kalyan Chaubey with India coach Igor Stimac(Dhiman Sarkar)

The list includes Anwar Ali and Jeakson Singh who missed the Asian Cup due to injuries but does not have Sandesh Jhingan and Ashique Kuruniyan who are injured. The list will be pruned when the Indian Super League pauses for the international break on March 14.

Stimac said new names could be on the list for the qualifiers in June which includes an away game to Qatar. The head coach said with little preparation time before the 2024 Asian Cup, there wasn’t much opportunity to look at new players over those who had been part of the process for over four years. “It wouldn’t make sense to pick a player who has done well in a few matches over someone who had been with the squad from 2019.” The process of rebuilding the squad for the next few years will begin now, he said.

The probables list:

Goalkeepers: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Amrinder Singh, Vishal Kaith.

Defenders: Akash Mishra, Lalchungnunga, Mehtab Singh, Pritam Kotal, Rahul Bheke, Nikhil Chandrashekhar Poojary, Subhasish Bose, Narender, Anwar Ali, Roshan Singh Naorem, Amey Ganesh Ranawade, Jay Gupta.

Midfielders: Anirudh Thapa, Brandon Fernandes, Liston Colaco, Mahesh Singh Naorem, Sahal Abdul Samad, Suresh Singh Wangjam, Jeakson Singh Thounaojam, Deepak Tangri, Lalthathanga Khawlhring, Lalengmawia Ralte, Imran Khan.

Forwards: Sunil Chhetri, Ishan Pandita, Lallianzuala Chhangte, Manvir Singh, Vikram Partap Singh, Rahul Kannoly Praveen, Nandhakumar Sekar, Isak Vanlalruatfela.

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