Treating the forthcoming SAF Games as a build-up for the future, India bronze medallists at the 1999 edition in Nepal have been clubbed in a tough group alongside defending champs Bangladesh, Afghanistan and hosts Pakistan.
The Games, scheduled for March 29 to April 5 at Islamabad, will see a new-look Indian team, which includes players from the Olympic and under-19 side.
Coach Stephen Constantine, presently with the Indian team preparing for the forthcoming pre-World Cup qualifiers against Oman (to be played in Kochi on March 31), says, The side is a well-balanced one, and is the hope of Indian football for the next couple of years.
Shooting down the theory that it is a second-string side, Constantine says, I hope everybody knows the difference between a World Cup qualifier and these Games, and the move to send a junior side was my idea.
Constantine added, We have always talked of exposure and I suppose this is the best possible way to expose budding players who are on the brink of making it to the senior squad.
Indias record at the Games have been impressive, having won the gold medal thrice 1985 (Calcutta), 1994 (Dhaka) and 1995 (Madras).
Apart from being the only country to have won the title thrice, India also have to their credit a silver medal when they lost to Nepal at Dhaka in 1993.
TFA medio Gouragmangi Moirangtem Singh will lead the 21-member squad.
Goalkeepers: Subashish Roy Chowdhury (TFA), Machindra Singh (Pun), Amit Nandy (Ben); Defenders: Habibur Rahman Mondal, Gurpreet Singh, Warundeep Singh, Subhas Mondal (TFA), Manju Nanjangud Shivananju (DYS, Karnataka); Midfielders: Gouramangi Moirangtem Singh, Malswama, Jerry Zirsanga, Debabrata Roy, Chitrasen Chandam Singh (TFA), Malswamtulunga (EB), Naduparambil Pappachan Pradeep (Ker); Forwards: Vimal Pariyar, Vanlal Rova (TFA), Sunil Chetri (MB), Sampathkumar Kuttimani (ITI), Sutang Marlanki (Fransa, Goa)
Coach: Aloke Mukherjee; Assistant Coach: Satheevan Balan; Goalkeeping Coach: Virender Singh; Manager: Rakesh Kumar Bakshi