Indian Football: Why there aren't any I-League players in the national team preparing for AFC Asian Cup qualifiers?

I-League champions Gokulam Kerala FC, who don't have a single national player in their team, defeated ISL giants ATK Mohun Bagan 4-2 in the AFC Cup group D fixture.

Gokulam Kerala FC won the 2021-22 I-League title; Credit: Twitter/@GokulamKeralaFC
By Sreejith C R | May 19, 2022 | 3 Min Read follow icon Follow Us


Indian national football team is currently in Kolkata preparing for the AFC Asian Cup third round qualifiers which will be played at the Salt Lake Stadium next month. The same venue where I-League champions Gokulam Kerala FC defeated Indian Super League (ISL) giants ATK Mohun Bagan 4-2 in a AFC Cup group D fixture to kick-start their maiden continental campaign. The convincing win by the Kerala outfit handed a harsh reality check to the ISL club. Moreover, GKFC head coach Vincenzo Alberto Annese has made some strong statements regarding the disrespectful treatment given to the I-League and it’s players who are not selected for the Indian team.

GKFC displayed clinical, counter-attacking football to get the better of the Kolkata outfit and take all three points in their AFC Cup debut. The Kolkata club started the match positively and created good goal-scoring chances but weren’t clinical enough in front of goal. Meanwhile, in the 37th minute, central defender Tiri went out with an ACL injury and from then on, ATKMB’s defense looked in sixes and sevens and were made to pay for their missed chances. After the break, Luca Majcen scored a brace, P Rishad and Jithin MS netted a goal each for the winning side. Pritam Kotal and Liston colaco reduced the margin for ATK Mohun Bagan. 

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ATKMB has eight national players in their team

All seven of the Indian players, who started the match for ATKMB on Wednesday had represented the national team at some stage and except the full-back Prabir Das, everyone else is a regular in Igor Stimac’s side. On the other hand, none of the local players in the GKFC team have an international cap to their name and 12 of the 21 players in the team are Kerala-born. Stimac had earlier mentioned that I-League players won’t be considered for Indian team selection. After the thumping win over ATKMB, GKFC boss Annese said: “Coach Igor does not give chances to our players in the national team most of the time. I’m very disappointed with this. ATKMB had eight national team players and we beat them 4-2 despite missing many open chances,”

Real Kashmir FC gave us more trouble than ATKMB: Annese

I-League is considered as a second tier league and players participating in it are often treated as second best and the top footballer in the country plays in the ISL. The I-League is often seen as a stepping stone for the Indian players as they nurture local players very well and give them the stage to excel and move on. However, GKFC has shown that the tide is changing and the national coaches need to have a better look at them. Annese added: “Real Kashmir, who were fighting relegation (in the I-League), gave us more problems than ATK Mohun Bagan. This is what I want to show the federation.”

India will start their AFC Asian Cup qualifiers against Cambodia on June 8

The 41-member Indian squad started their training camp a month ago and will take on Jordan in an international friendly on May 28 before beginning their AFC Asian Cup qualification against Cambodia on June 8. The Blue Tigers will play Afghanistan on June 11 before ending their campaign against Hong Kong, three days later. India lost their first practice match against ATKMB 2-1 last week before defeating I-League All Stars XI 2-0 on Wednesday. Captain Sunil Chhetri, who is returning after an injury layoff, scored in both the games. 



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