2019 Asian Cup: The Under-17s who can make the cut
India's qualification for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, at exactly the same point when the Under-17 footballers have caught the eye at the World Cup, throws up the intriguing possibility of some juniors making the jump to the senior level in 15 months' time. It's fair to say that the national team, who will face the continent's best teams at the Asian Cup, could do with as large a talent pool as possible to choose from. And it's also fair to say that the Under-17s, who now have big-match experience, could benefit from playing alongside the established seniors.
We look at four players who could make the transition.
Dheeraj Singh, goalkeeper
Perhaps India's most consistent performer at the ongoing U-17 World Cup, Dheeraj might have the toughest task at hand, competing for a spot in the squad against Gurpreet Sandhu, Subrata Pal, Amrinder Singh as well as a relative newcomer to the squad like Vishal Kaith. Yet, his improvement graph over the 13 months between the AFC U-16 Championships in Goa -- he was excellent at stopping shots, but appeared indecisive in his collections -- and now has been laudable.
The Asian Cup is 15 months away, and with the correct guidance from coaches and the natural physical development of a young man who turned 17 in July, he could give some of the illustrious names a run for their place.
Anwar Ali, centre-back
Even before he made headlines with the shot that hit the woodwork, denying India their first FIFA World Cup goal against USA, Anwar has been talked of as a long-term prospect for India. As someone who started out as a striker, his ability to overlap and sometimes press high will always remain a bonus. However, it was as a defender that he showed better match-awareness against Colombia.
Good with both feet, he could also be a valuable asset when going up for set-pieces. India have played most of their recent games with the defensive combination of Anas Edathodika and Sandesh Jhingan, the latter also being one of Anwar's idols in the sport. Anas and Jhingan haven't always been able to communicate perfectly, and that's where having the option of a younger player ready to compete with them sounds like a good prospect. Anwar will have to work on his speed across the pitch, though, perhaps his biggest weakness at the moment.
Sanjeev Stalin, full-back
The India U-17 left-back Sanjeev Stalin had a slightly iffy debut against USA, pushed back by some hustling from a three-man attack that often had a fourth player supporting them. He would leave an impression on Colombia, though, most notably with his service from set-pieces.
India's senior team has a surfeit of left-backs to choose from, with regular starter Narayan Das perhaps just the first of five or six names who have been performing consistently over the last few seasons and can challenge for that spot. Stalin is good with both feet, and that is where he might be a good alternative as right-back, a position where India do not have the same depth as on the other flank. His dead-ball ability will add variety to a team that already has some quality players in that category.
Jeakson Singh, midfielder
The man India will always know for having scored that goal against Colombia on Oct 9, 2017, Jeakson could actually be the most viable option to be fast-tracked into India colours, especially considering the variety of positions he can play across.
Typically employed as a central midfielder, he has the ability to effortlessly drop wide on either wing, also having the strength and stamina to push forward to perform a box-to-box role.
The Indian senior team currently has a perfect central midfield duo of Eugeneson Lyngdoh and Rowllin Borges, who also complement each other perfectly when playing together. They do lack enough options wide, though, and Lyngdoh will be close to 33 by the time the Asian Cup rolls in, almost twice as old as Jeakson, who turns 17 only next June.