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(FM'09) The Indian Summer.....And Beyond - A Chance To Rewrite History Part III.V


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Monday 25th October 2015
With the First Qualifying Round completed, the draw is made quickly for the Second Qualifying Round. Once again this will be a two-legged affair, with the winners moving on into the Group Stage that makes up the Third Round. Bizarrely, not all of the nations that won in Round One are playing in Round Two. The nations of Indonesia, Oman, Iran, China, Uzbekistan, Qatar, Syria, Lebanon, Bahrain, Singapore and United Arab Emirates are all moved directly into the Group Stage. Don't ask me how that works, because I have no idea to be honest.

That leaves eight nations including ourselves to compete in the Second Round, and our potential opponents are Kuwait, Thailand, North Korea, Jordan, Turkmenistan, Hong Kong and Malaysia. We didn't have a particular preference for our opponent, and we were drawn out of the bag third, meaning we would be home in the First Leg once again. Our opponents would be the next nation drawn out, and that would be Malaysia.

We'll be the favourites I'd imagine, as our South East Asian opponents are currently FIFA World Ranked in 149th spot. They defeated 164th ranked Afghanistan in the opening round, a goalless draw away from home followed by a 2-0 win Kuala Lumpar. The squad that earned that win was almost entirely domestic based, with only two strikers currently playing their football outside the nation. Gary Steven Robbat plays his football in Romania with non-League club CS Armata Craiova, while his potential strike partner Richard Sinclair plys his trade in England with Burton Albion of Coca-Cola League 2.

It's a very short turnaround as well, with the First Leg taking place in Kolkata on November 6th, less than two weeks away, with the return the following weekend, Sunday 15th November, in the Bukit Jalil Stadium in the Capital City of Kuala Lumpar. The nations have met twice since this save began. In January 2009 we beat them 3-1 at home in the Asian Cup Qualifiers, with the return a year later ending in a 3-3 draw.

Thursday 29th October
Disaster for Kuldip Kumar and his club Mahindra United. With just two caps to his name, mainly because he is so injury prone, and the Senior Squad being named this weekend, he won't get a chance to add to his tally until well into 2016, as the 23 year old has suffered a broken foot in training, and will miss between four to six months. He was just starting to run into some form with United too.

Sunday 1st November

India Senior Squad for 2018 World Cup Qualifying, Asian Zone, Second Round, First Leg vs Malaysia - H (6/11/2015)

| Name                           |  Position  |     Club                  | Height  | Age     | Value   | Caps | Goals |

| Arindam Bhattacharya           | GK         | Mahindra Utd              | 6'1"    | 29      | £5K     |   4  |   0   |
| Mohammed Hossain               | GK         | JCT                       | 6'1"    | 23      | £2K     |   4  |   0   |
| Subrata Pal                    | GK         | East Bengal               | 6'0"    | 28      | £18K    |  11  |   0   |
| Dulal Bhattacharya             | D L        | Al-Faysali (JOR)          | 5'8"    | 23      | £3K     |   6  |   1   |
| Paramjit Kumar                 | D L        | Vasco                     | 5'7"    | 21      | £1K     |  10  |   0   |
| Adil Kundu                     | D C        | Zimbru Chisinau (MDA)     | 5'8"    | 24      | £35K    |   6  |   0   |
| Francisco Bhowmick             | D C        | Fukien (HKG)              | 5'10"   | 20      | -       |   4  |   0   |
| Francisco Reja                 | D C        | vv Heerjansdam (NED)      | 5'9"    | 19      | £16K    |   3  |   0   |
| Gumpe Singh                    | D C        | East Bengal               | 5'7"    | 23      | £7K     |   3  |   1   |
| Jose Paul                      | D C        | WIT-Georgia Tbilisi (GEO) | 5'9"    | 23      | £12K    |  10  |   3   |
| Ajay Bailleux                  | D/WB R     | Mohammedan                | 5'10"   | 31      | £1K     |  21  |   1   |
| Amar Thakur                    | D/WB/AM R  | Air India                 | 5'5"    | 22      | £2K     |   1  |   0   |
| Sanjay Singh                   | D LC, M L  | Indian Telephone SC       | 5'7"    | 17      | -       |   4  |   0   |
| Naduparambil Pappachan Pradeep | D C, AM LC | Mohun Bagan               | 5'7"    | 32      | £4K     |  25  |  10   |
| Amit Singh                     | DM, M C    | FC Nantes (FRA)           | 5'10"   | 17      | £40K    |   8  |   0   |
| Ryan D'Souza                   | M R        | Mohun Bagan               | 5'9"    | 23      | £3K     |   2  |   0   |
| Yadwinder Khan                 | M C        | Bengal Mumbai FC          | 5'8"    | 23      | £2K     |   6  |   0   |
| Raheem Alibhaï                 | AM R       | Olympic Charleroi (BEL)   | 5'7"    | 31      | £6K     |   9  |   1   |
| Naresh Reja                    | AM L       | Bhratri Sangha            | 5'10"   | 20      | -       |   1  |   0   |
| Reisangmi Vasum                | AM LC      | FC Kochin                 | 5'8"    | 27      | -       |   4  |   1   |
| Sabri Gharbi                   | AM C       | Bengal Mumbai FC          | 5'7"    | 27      | £1K     |  13  |   1   |
| Aman Verma                     | AM/F C     | Bury (ENG)                | 5'11"   | 28      | £16K    |   4  |   2   |
| Chidi Edeh                     | ST         | Mahindra Utd              | 5'11"   | 29      | £5K     |  12  |   4   |
| Edu                            | ST         | Mohun Bagan               | 6'1"    | 32      | £3K     |   7  |   2   |
| Shafiqul Islam Chowdhury       | ST         |Vannes Olympique Club (FRA)| 6'4"    | 21      | £10K    |   2  |   0   |
| Sunil Chetri                   | ST         | AS Rodos (GRE)            | 5'5"    | 31      | £24K    |  29  |  18   |

While it wasn't immediately clear, as far as I can tell, this is the Squad that will cover both matches against Malaysia. With that in mind, there is a slight configuration change around this time. And things must be serious now, as for the first time since taking the role, I have named a Senior Squad with no potential International Debutants named.

Goalkeepers :-
No shocks here, and neither were any expected. This trio have dominated the Senior Squad selections for a while now, and while there is some competition stacking up behind them, they will take some budging. Arindam Bhattacharya is the man on form of the three, Subrata Pal is probably the best of the trio though.

Defenders :-
I decided not to pick six out and out centre backs this time as I had last time, with uncapped Zouhair Taouil left out this time, the Morocco born Mahindra United 23 year old is still injured anyway. I have made sure we are well covered though, with Jose Paul a booking away from a suspension. More about that in a second. The biggest decision to be made across the back four was at left back, and whether to stick with Dulal Bhattacharya, or recall Azadur Barman. The latter is slowly returning to full fitness, but not yet to form, and as such he has to wait a little longer for his recall.

Midfielders/Wingers :-
Probably the most complicated area where I had to make choices, and to be fair, I think we have found the best solution. Sanjay Singh is due to return to training tomorrow, and while that does leave him doubtful for the First Leg, it should mean he is available for the return just over a week later, and he is selected as the player to take the spare place created by Taouil being left out. It does pose another question though, as along with Paul, our left winger Reisangmi Vasum is also one booking away from a suspension. Sanjay Singh being back solves that problem, but if he isn't fit enough to be involved, it still leaves us short. And we have also lost Kuldip Kumar from the Squad to injury. The answer lies in the veteran Mohun Bagan man Naduparambil Pappachan Pradeep. The 32 year old is in solid enough form, and has plenty of experience with 25 caps to his name. But more importantly than all that, as well as playing in centre midfield, he can also play on the left wing or at centre back, making him the perfect solution for this situation, and cementing his recall to the Senior Squad he was last selected for back at the start of the year for the Friendly against Kyrgyzstan.

Strikers :-
Just like the goalkeepers, this was a straightforward selection, and the group of four remains the same as it was last time out. There were strikers pushing to come back into the Squad, with Ashish Morje in particular quite unfortunate to miss out. The reason they have missed out is because I have decided to keep my faith in French based target man Shafiqul Islam Chowdhury, who is improving all the time with third tier Vannes Olympique, with a first goal of the season in the bag, and a good increase in his overall play and average rating. As an option from the bench who does something different to our other strikers, he is unique in the Squad.

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  • 1 month later...

Wednesday 4th November 2015
After naming the Senior Squad on Sunday, it was starting to look like we were going to get a trouble free build ready for Friday afternoon's crucial First Leg of the World Cup Qualifier Second Round match with Malaysia. No such luck though. It was very late on Wednesday night and less than 48 hours before the game, and while I was waiting for my chartered flight out of Belfast and down to the sub continent that I received the email.

27 year old FC Kochin left winger Reisangmi Vasum was taken ill a few hours ago. He was quickly isolated from the rest of the Squad, and has now been diagnosed with a virus, which will rule him out of both Legs of the tie, and he has now been sent home to recover. The left wing is a problem area for us, though with Vasum on a booking and Sanjay Singh a question mark to miss the First Leg, I had taken extra bodies to cover that area of the park. But I would now need to call up a short notice replacement. With no young players in good enough form to be considered, against all the odds, it was one of Vasum's team mates who would get the call. With only three caps to his name and now 33 years old, I don't think anyone including himself, would have expected to see Clifford Miranda back involved for India. But he is the form guy that wasn't already in the Squad, and he will join us tomorrow morning. He's delighted to be involved once more.

Thursday 5th November
I arrive in India on the eve of the game after an overnight flight from Northern Ireland, having absolutely underestimated what I was arriving into. Football might be 'the global game', but it's never really captured the imagination of the nation here on the sub continent. Arriving here today, it doesn't feel like that though. Everyone is talking about tomorrows match, with media coverage at unprecedented levels after the improved performances. The eyes of the nations sports fans are, temporarily at least, diverted away from cricket and tennis. I will be leaving again straight after the game to return in time for my next club football engagement.

In the press conference, I'm asked about a quote given to the press today by a former International player, who predicts that we will fall short in this tie, with the visiting Malaysian squad having too much quality and know how for us this time around. Paramjit Kumar was also in the press conference. His answer gave me confidence as to the mood in the camp as well. 'We haven't won games by simply being lucky. We've become an accomplished side, and while this will be a significant test for us, we firmly believe we are the better side and that we can win here'.

As mentioned when the draw was made, Malaysia rely on an almost entirely domestic based squad. The only members of their squad not currently playing in Malaysia are two of their strikers, Gary Steven Robbat is the top scorer at non-League Romanian side CS Armata Craiova, while British/Malay forward Richard Sinclair struggles to get a regular game at Burton Albion right now in his first season at the Pirelli Stadium. The star man for the South East Asian nation is probably 23 year old Melaka midfielder Qiu Qirong, who has played nearly 150 domestic games, and has eight caps to his name. He could certainly make an impact in a European League I would think, but he really doesn't seem particularly interested in moving out of his home nation.

Friday 6th November

FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifying, Asian Zone Second Round, First Leg
Salt Lake Stadium, Kolkata, India
India v Malaysia
Attendance :-
114,280. Weather :- Dry, 38c.

The gates opened a whole six hours before kick off here, and despite blisteringly hot temperatures with an earlier than normal kick off, the stadium was full several hours before the teams lined up for the national anthems. Just one change is made for us from our last outing in Nepal, with the return of Sanjay Singh on the left wing to win his 5th cap in place of Reisangmi Vasum. Two further changes are made amongst our substitutes, with Adil Kundu and Naduparambil Pappachan Pradeep replacing Francisco Bhowmick and Naresh Reja in the matchday squad. The man in charge is 31 year old Chinese referee Zhao Hui, who has taken charge of 16 major matches despite his young age, sending off 7 players and awarding four penalties in those games.

We were nearly caught out early on, as a free kick on the right of our box was struck low by Mohd Zaki Salim, and found Irwan Ahmad who got around Ajay Bailleux and fired a shot that Subrata Pal had to push away. Salim was involved again on the quarter of an hour mark, sending a pass into the right this time for full back Rosidi Abdul Aziz to cross towards the far post, this time Bailleux jumping with Ahmad and doing enough to prevent him getting a meaningful contact on his header. It took us half an hour to produce an attack of any real note, but we made it count, Raheem Alibhaï curling in a corner to the far post, where it was met by one of the smallest players on the park, Sunil Chetri unmarked as he met it with a downward header back across goal that should have been cleared by the man on the post, Mustafa Osman, but it crept between his legs, and just inside the post to give us a precious lead and reignite the atmosphere from this huge crowd. Right on half time, we almost repeated the trick, Paramjit Kumar sending the ball over from the other side this time, and Chetri meeting this one with a powerful header from eight yards out that had keeper Mohd Nasril Nourdin beaten, but thumped back off the cross bar.

A slender half time lead then, despite us not really producing a huge amount. The second half had a bit more of an edge to it as well, Amit Singh picking up a booking for a trip, quickly joined by Zaki Salim for a foul on Sabri Gharbi. A long clearance from Subrata Pal was flicked on nicely by Chidi Edeh, it didn't quite find Chetri, but Alibhaï did get to it, trying to clip it through into the box for Edeh, but Nasril Nourdin was off his line quick enough to take the ball from him. Gharbi joined Singh in the book, getting his own back on Zaki Salim with a trip that earned the same punishment as his opposite number. Both sides would soon run into injury problems after the hour mark, with Malaysia affected first. They lost centre back Helmi Kalam, and made an additional change at the same time. We would soon also lose a centre back, with Jose Paul replaced by Adil Kundu, and Alibhaï also going off, with Amar Thakur brought on to provide a little more defensive experience down that wing. Malaysia's last change was an attacking one, with Richard Sinclair sacrificed, but they soon suffered another knock with no further options from the bench remaining. Ahmad did have a try for the visitors, but the angle was too tight to cause Pal any real issues, while we made our last change with Sanjay Singh replaced by Naduparambil Pappachan Pradeep. And we almost got a second goal with minutes remaining, Chetri receiving the ball near the byline from a throw, and cutting it back to Gharbi, who caught his shot beautifully, but it curled just wide of the far post. A series of late corners failed to produce what would have been a huge second goal, but we would be heading to Kuala Lumpur with a slender advantage.

India (1) 1 - Sunil Chetri (31)
Malaysia (0) 0
Subrata Pal; Ajay Bailleux, Jose Paul (inj - Adil Kundu 66), Francisco Reja, Paramjit Kumar; Amit Singh, Sabri Gharbi; Raheem Alibhaï (Amar Thakur 66), Sanjay Singh (Naduparambil Pappachan Pradeep 84); Sunil Chetri, Chidi Edeh.
Unused Substitutes :- Arindam Bhattacharya (GK), Dulal Bhattacharya, Yadwinder Khan, Aman Verma, Ryan D'Souza, Shafiqul Islam Chowdhury.
Bookings :- Amit Singh 51, Sabri Gharbi 59
Possession :- 52% - 48%. Man of the Match :- Sunil Chetri (India).

A second consecutive 1-0 win from a Sunil Chetri first half goal, and a second consecutive man of the match performance from the Greece based experienced striker, who has now scored 19 goals at International level, and sends us to Malaysia in nine days time with a slender lead to defend as we look to make it into the Group Stages that form the Third Round of this World Cup Qualifying process.

But if we are to do that, we will need to do so without our best defender. Jose Paul has suffered a broken arm, and the man who is playing so well right now out in Georgia will be on the sidelines for the next six weeks. It's a hammer blow for both us and the player.

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Monday 9th November 2016
I received bad news yesterday, but good news today. The good news is that I do in fact get to name a squad for the Second Leg of the World Cup Qualifying tie with Malaysia for the coming weekend. The reason that is such good news is that with Jose Paul already out, we yesterday lost Sabri Gharbi as well as he twisted his ankle. That's two of our core players taken out of the crucial Second Leg in Kuala Lumpur this coming weekend. Our National Pool depth has evolved and improved almost immeasurably since I took charge of the nation two and a half years ago now. But for me, it's only the very top nations, with superb depth at their disposal, who wouldn't feel a loss of this nature. It is what it is, one of the road bumps of International Football. We can't go out and buy a replacement.

India Senior Squad for 2018 World Cup Qualifying, Asian Zone, Second Round, Second Leg vs Malaysia - A (15/11/2015)

| Name                           |  Position  |     Club                  | Height  | Age     | Value   | Caps | Goals |

| Arindam Bhattacharya           | GK         | Mahindra Utd              | 6'1"    | 29      | £5K     |   4  |   0   |
| Mohammed Hossain               | GK         | JCT                       | 6'1"    | 23      | £2K     |   4  |   0   |
| Subrata Pal                    | GK         | East Bengal               | 6'0"    | 28      | £18K    |  11  |   0   |
| Dulal Bhattacharya             | D L        | Al-Faysali (JOR)          | 5'8"    | 23      | £3K     |   6  |   1   |
| Paramjit Kumar                 | D L        | Vasco                     | 5'7"    | 21      | £1K     |  10  |   0   |
| Adil Kundu                     | D C        | Zimbru Chisinau (MDA)     | 5'8"    | 24      | £35K    |   6  |   0   |
| Francisco Bhowmick             | D C        | Fukien (HKG)              | 5'10"   | 20      | -       |   4  |   0   |
| Francisco Reja                 | D C        | vv Heerjansdam (NED)      | 5'9"    | 19      | £16K    |   3  |   0   |
| Gumpe Singh                    | D C        | East Bengal               | 5'7"    | 23      | £7K     |   3  |   1   |
| Manju Nanjangud Shivananju     | D C        | Bengal Mumbai FC          | 6'1"    | 28      | £10K    |  11  |   1   |
| Ajay Bailleux                  | D/WB R     | Mohammedan                | 5'10"   | 31      | £1K     |  21  |   1   |
| Amar Thakur                    | D/WB/AM R  | Air India                 | 5'5"    | 22      | £2K     |   1  |   0   |
| Sanjay Singh                   | D LC, M L  | Indian Telephone SC       | 5'7"    | 17      | -       |   4  |   0   |
| Naduparambil Pappachan Pradeep | D C, AM LC | Mohun Bagan               | 5'7"    | 32      | £4K     |  25  |  10   |
| Amit Singh                     | DM, M C    | FC Nantes (FRA)           | 5'10"   | 17      | £40K    |   8  |   0   |
| Ryan D'Souza                   | M R        | Mohun Bagan               | 5'9"    | 23      | £3K     |   2  |   0   |
| Yadwinder Khan                 | M C        | Bengal Mumbai FC          | 5'8"    | 23      | £2K     |   6  |   0   |
| Raheem Alibhaï                 | AM R       | Olympic Charleroi (BEL)   | 5'7"    | 31      | £6K     |   9  |   1   |
| Naresh Reja                    | AM L       | Bhratri Sangha            | 5'10"   | 20      | -       |   1  |   0   |
| Mohd Jahangir Islam            | M C        | Dempo                     | 5'8"    | 22      | £5K     |   0  |   0   |
| Karan Mollah                   | DM, M C    | AS Poissy (FRA)           | 5'7"    | 17      | £3K     |   1  |   0   |
| Aman Verma                     | AM/F C     | Bury (ENG)                | 5'11"   | 28      | £16K    |   4  |   2   |
| Chidi Edeh                     | ST         | Mahindra Utd              | 5'11"   | 29      | £5K     |  12  |   4   |
| Edu                            | ST         | Mohun Bagan               | 6'1"    | 32      | £3K     |   7  |   2   |
| Shafiqul Islam Chowdhury       | ST         |Vannes Olympique Club (FRA)| 6'4"    | 21      | £10K    |   2  |   0   |
| Sunil Chetri                   | ST         | AS Rodos (GRE)            | 5'5"    | 31      | £24K    |  29  |  18   |

Three changes from the Squad that reported to Kolkata for the First Leg then, two from injuries and another one for a reshuffle. I could have potentially made some more changes, but injuries didn't allow me to make improvements, and so I stuck with what I already had for the most part.

Jose Paul is out. The Georgian based centre back is a huge part of our team, and on a day when we know a clean sheet will be enough to move us onto the next round, he's one of the last guys I'd want to be without for this huge trip. A replacement is needed for him, and the choice for his squad place essentially comes down to two players. Bengal Mumbai man Manju Nanjangud Shivananju's experience and form gives him the edge over Havant & Waterlooville's centre back Rikki Bains this time, though for a place in the team itself, it's more likely to be a call between Gumpe Singh and Adil Kundu to partner with Francisco Reja.

Also out is attacking midfielder Sabri Gharbi, and the choice for his spot is a little more straightforward. With Kuldip Kumar, Asif Hossain and Philip Paite all injured, and William Jidayi out of both form and match fitness as he struggles to get a game with his new club in Italy, there is one main contender left. Step forward Dempo's 22 year old Mohd Jahangir Islam, who is uncapped at any level. He never really got going with East Bengal, and has moved club in each of the last three summers. A great season with Air India earned him a move to Mohun Bagan, but he decided to try his luck elsewhere again after a good season, and he has really stepped up now at Dempo, to the point where he is actually one of the best performing players in the domestic game. He's earned this shot.

Last time around, I used my floating spot on the left wing due to injury worries, which were compounded with Reisangmi Vasum being injured late in the build up, and Clifford Miranda stepping in. Now with Sanjay Singh proving his fitness, plus good cover options in Naduparambil Pappachan Pradeep and Naresh Reja, I leave both of those guys out this time. Instead, the floating spot is used to draft in an extra defensive midfielder, in anticipation of potentially having a spell where we need to set up the barricades in Kuala Lumpur. So in comes 17 year old French based Karan Mollah. The AS Poissy teen was the subject of heavy criticism when I first capped him early in my tenure. That doesn't really happen anymore, though he hasn't been capped again since his debut. And while he is struggling to get his average rating up closer to the 6's and 7's we'd like to see, he has slowly become much more experienced, with 66 League games under his belt now at the time of squad selection. I wouldn't bring him along if I didn't consider him capable of doing the job if we need him.

I did nearly make one more change. Up front, 23 year old once capped striker Ashish Morje has become the latest Indian player to make the move away from the domestic game, with a £55,000 transfer to Thailand Premier League outfit BEC Tero Sasana. With several International Players from multiple nations in their squad, it's a great chance for him to take a step up. However, at this point, with Sunil Chetri and Chidi Edeh striking up a nice partnership, and neither Edu or Shafiqul Islam Chowdhury really deserving the chop, he is left out. But I'll be keeping a close eye to see if he hits the ground running when the season kicks off in Thailand.

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Saturday 14th November 2015
We've just arrived in Malaysia, for what is undoubtedly one of the biggest games in Indian football history. We hold a one goal lead from the First Leg in Kolkata, and if we can negotiate this hurdle we'll move into the Group Stage of the Qualifying process. The heat is nowhere near as stifling here as it is in India, but the humidity is another level entirely. The daily torrential downpours are more annoying than refreshing.

It's the turn of once capped 20 year old left winger Naresh Reja to join myself and skipper Raheem Alibhaï in the press conference ahead of tomorrow's match. Clearly sick of anything myself or my Belgian based Captain has to say, Reja gets to field most of the questions posed from the Malay, Indian and World press. He told them that the players are aware of the interest that their form has generated back home, and that the Squad hopes to thrive under the kind of pressure that most in the ranks have never had to deal with before.

Sunday 15th November

FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifying, Asian Zone Second Round, Second Leg
Bukit Jalil Stadium, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Malaysia v India (India lead 1-0 on aggregate)
Attendance :-
95,226. Weather :- Drizzle, 22c.

We have some changes forced upon us from the First Leg, with Jose Paul replaced at centre back by Adil Kundu, while the other player missing with injury, Sabri Gharbi, is replaced in the lineup by Yadwinder Khan. With those two players both promoted up from the bench, two more changes are made to our matchday squad, with Gumpe Singh and potential debutant Mohd Jahangir Islam brought in. There was huge temptation from my part to set us up in a more defensive shape than normal, but I decided that attack was the best form of defence for us here, and that we would be good enough to get the result we needed to advance.

It was so damn close to being the perfect start. It should have been too. Malaysia tried to move through the middle, Francisco Reja intercepted the ball and thumped it down the park, sending Chidi Edeh into a foot race with a hopelessly outmatched Mohd Khairul Zakaria, the African born striker effortlessly beating him for pace and striking a powerful shot that keeper Mohd Azian Sharif parried right into the path of the unmarked Sunil Chetri. I'll grant him that it did arrive bouncing at a slightly awkward height, but it still should have been buried, instead he hit it into the ground, and it bounced back up over the cross bar. That was inside the first minute, and before we got to the ten minute mark we had another outstanding chance to pinch a priceless away goal. Mohd Fahmi Mohd Idrus had just curled a shot right into Subrata Pal's waiting arms, before Sanjay Singh won the ball on halfway, and then sent Chetri into acres of space down the left wing. The striker made ground, before sending a low cross into the box and finding the unmarked Edeh. The striker went for power again, almost smashing the cross bar in half, but failing to find the net again! We should be two up already, make that three when Chetri played Edeh between the centre backs on the quarter of an hour mark, this time the striker sent his shot high and wide. From that point, there was a bit of a change, and Malaysia moved onto the front foot. Zico Mondal managed to dribble his way into the box, and found Irwan Ahmad with a short pass, his shot turned aside by Pal. Full back Rosdi Abdul Aziz somehow avoided a booking for a crude bodycheck on Sanjay Singh as he chased the ball down into space on the left. Ajay Bailleux didn't escape when he did exactly the same thing to Ahmad less than ninety seconds later. Reja had setup a great chance earlier with a thumping clearance, but this time it was more of a long raking pass across field that picked out Sanjay Singh, his cross was behind the strikers, but Raheem Alibhaï connected with a half volley that was blocked before it could test the keeper. With half time approaching, Ahmad just missed the target with a curling shot from the corner of the box, before Mondal made a run down the right and found Qiu Qirong in the box, the midfielder getting the ball onto his left foot and firing a shot from close range that Pal made a smart stop to keep out.

Half time arrives, the Second Leg still goalless, and both sides missing great chances to change their fortunes. A place in the Group Stages of Qualification is still very much up for grabs, but which nation will take it..................?

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Sunday 15th November 2015

FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifying, Asian Zone Second Round, Second Leg
Bukit Jalil Stadium, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Malaysia v India (India lead 1-0 on aggregate)
Attendance :-
95,226. Weather :- Drizzle, 22c.


No changes in personnel for either nation at the break, and Malaysia nearly doing early on what we nearly did in the first half, Mohd Idrus clipping through a pass that Mondal was favourite to get onto, but Pal was quickly off his line and smothered the ball at his feet. Ahmad sent another effort over the cross bar, before Malaysia finally found their way through our defence, Mohd Nor Farhan Muhamad sending over a cross from the right that Mohd Idrus had time to chest down, and then guide a shot across goal and just inside the far post to put the hosts in front on the night, and the tie level overall. Game on! But it was very much Malaysia in the driving seat right now, and Mohd Zaidi Mohamad almost turned the whole tie on it's head moments later with a curler from range that only just missed the top corner. Our chance to reassert ourselves came and went, Alibhaï making his way past his marker and sending over a cross that Chetri met with a header, the cross bar coming to Malaysia's rescue once again. Mark that one down as a missed opportunity, and mark the next piece of action down as the turning point of both the night and the tie. Sharif sent a long goal kick down the park, and Mondal jumped with Adil Kundu, the pair colliding in the air, and both hitting the floor hard. Kundu seemed to have taken the worst of it, though Mondal certainly looked wobbly on his feet. The ball arrived back to Mondal, who from just outside the centre circle, clearly tried to send the ball into touch, before sinking back to the turf himself. But the ball didn't go out, Farhan Muhamad kept it in, and played on, sending a pass into the box for Ahmad to run onto, and he clipped it over the onrushing Pal and into the net. The whistle hadn't gone to halt play, and the Chinese referee had no choice but to award the goal of course. But we were furious, a blatant case of unsportsmanlike behaviour, and my players needed to be taken away from both the ref, and Farhan Muhamad. It was noticeable that Zico Mondal was keeping himself well out of the way and taking no part in what was going on. While that was all going on, Kundu had to be replaced, clearly unable to continue, with Gumpe Singh taking his place. 

We couldn't afford to get too sidetracked though, as we now needed to get an away goal to send ourselves through. Lifting the guys from the touchline after that incident was proving tricky though, and concentration was low as mistakes started to creep into our play. Ahmad curled a free kick just over the top, before Gumpe Singh had to quickly get up to speed to make a last ditch challenge right on the edge of his own box. High pressing from Edeh did force a mistake from the hosts defence, but Chetri didn't have the pace to escape the defence, and his shot from range was ambitious and wayward. With fifteen minutes to play, I pulled the pin. Bailleux and Amit Singh came off, and on came Amar Thakur and Shafiqul Islam Chowdhury as we switched to wingbacks from full backs and three up front. But the plan crashed and burned. We had already had a quick warning shot when Qirong sent a shot on the turn over the bar. But a long ball up the park was cleared, and Malaysia outnumbered us on the counter attack, Farhan Muhamed's pace creating the extra man, and his cross found Ahmad steaming in unmarked to sidefoot home his centre and increase the advantage with thirteen minutes left to play. We looked beaten, and we were beaten. We could get nothing going in attack, and the hosts were counter attacking at will, sub Pawadai Nordin sending a shot from ten yards well over the bar after being found unmarked as the scoreboard threatened to run out of control. Our journey is over!

Malaysia (0) 3 - Mohd Fahmi Mohd Idrus (49), Irwan Ahmad (56,77)
India (0) 0
(Malaysia win 3-1 on aggregate)

Subrata Pal; Ajay Bailleux (Amar Thakur 75), Adil Kundu (inj - Gumpe Singh 57), Francisco Reja, Paramjit Kumar; Amit Singh (Shafiqul Islam Chowdhury 75), Yadwinder Khan; Raheem Alibhaï ©, Sanjay Singh; Sunil Chetri, Chidi Edeh.
Unused Substitutes :- Arindam Bhattacharya (GK), Dulal Bhattacharya, Mohd Jahangir Islam, Aman Verma, Ryan D'Souza, Naduparmbil Pappachan Pradeep.
Bookings :- Ajay Bailleux 20
Possession :- 49% - 51%. Man of the Match :- Irwan Ahmad (Malaysia).

I'm devastated that we're out, and to a nation that I very much believe we're better than. We can talk about the incident, which did of course change the game. But if we are to talk about that, and even think about using it as some kind of an excuse, it should also be mentioned that we missed enough chances in the first quarter of an hour to put the tie away.

The draw for the Third Round takes place next weekend, and we won't be in it. To be absolutely truthful, I suspected that I would sacked from the job right away, and that India would look to bring in a new man. That doesn't appear to be the case, at least not immediately anyway. The FA tell me that they remain happy with the job I'm doing, and that they look forward to seeing what the future brings for the Senior Team under my leadership. The draw for the Qualifying of the 2019 Asian Nations Cup is due to be made in late March. We weren't involved at all last time, which I suspect was due to Ranking. If so, we should certainly be included this time. If not, and there is no competitive football for four more years, I'll have to look at other options in International Football should doors open.

Wednesday 18th November
Despite crashing out of World Cup Qualifying, the latest FIFA World Rankings show another improvement for us, a seven place climb up to 108th spot. That makes us currently the 18th ranked nation in Asia, and moves us ahead of Georgia, and a place in front of Cyprus, who we are currently scheduled to play next year. We're also just five places behind the nation where I currently make a living, Northern Ireland, who are the other nation currently in our diary for next year.

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  • 5 months later...

Tuesday 15th December 2015
Our exit from the World Cup Qualifying process hasn't damaged our FIFA World Ranking too much, as we drop just two places from 108th down to 110th.

Friday 1st January 2016
Happy New Year from India. Not 100% sure if it's the day that it's celebrated out there on the sub continent, but the football fans of the second most populous nation on the planet will likely be happy to see the back of a year that promised so much, but ultimately delivered so little.

The Best Eleven for India in 2015 has been selected, and with seven games played in the year it made the selection a little more difficult than the previous year. Of those selected, centre back Jose Paul is the pick of the bunch, scoring twice in six caps, and posting an average rating of 7.17 over those half a dozen games.

                                                                                                                                       Subrata Pal,
                                                                                                           Ajay Bailleux, Jose Paul, Gumpe Singh, Paramjit Kumar,
                                                                                                       Raheem Alibhaï, Amit Singh, Yadwinder Khan, Sanjay Singh,
                                                                                                                          Ranty Martins, Sunil Chetri.

                                            Subs :- Arindram Bhattacharya, Adil Kundu, Francisco Reja, Aman Verma, Sabri Gharbi, Reisangmi Vasum, Joseph Pereira.

There's an improvement on last year's induction into the nation's Best Ever XI, with seven of this years Best Eleven selected for the Overall Team. That now means that all eleven of those in the Best Ever XI are players that have been capped during my tenure, with another five of my lads named amongst the substitutes. Only two retired players from before my time now remain from outside my selections, with the recently retired Joseph Pereira the only other selection no longer playing.

Friday 22nd January
Disaster is the wrong word to use, but it's certainly more than just bad news today when we're told that Cyprus are no longer able to fulfil their fixture with us in New Delhi for later this year. That now leaves us with just one fixture in the calendar for this year, a game in Belfast against Northern Ireland. With no ability to add anymore fixtures into the diary at this point, it is now a nervous wait for March to come around and find out if we are to be involved in the Asian Cup Qualifiers this time around ahead of the 2019 Finals of the Tournament, which will this time be held in Australia for the first time.

Saturday 30th January
A quick look around the National Pool shows there hasn't been too much movement around from players who are regularly involved with the Senior National Team, but it could yet be a summer of Transfer movement for some of my players. We already know that Ashish Morje is the latest to move overseas, with the striker set to ply his trade is Thailand with his new club BEC Tero Sasana when the new campaign gets underway in South East Asia. While they are not a big club in that country, it is still likely to be a step up in level for the highly rated 23 year old striker.

The rest of the nations footballers have spent January doing the usual round of pre-summer agreements for moves later in the year. Some are doing it for their pay rise, some are doing it to get more football. As is very much the norm for this country, many are moving from smaller regional clubs up into the Professional ranks, where they will compete with more established players for a squad place. Many who made that very move this time last year are now making the opposite move back after discovering how hard it is to be one of the chosen few for the relatively small amount of clubs in the National Football League.

Of all those players, only one looks set to make a potential move away from Indian domestic football. 27 year old attacking midfielder Sabri Gharbi has had a crack at football in Europe before. The Belgian passport holder was only a kid when he tried his luck at both Lierse and FC Brussels, before hopping over the border into Holland spending a season with NEC Nijmegen. With no Senior football in any of those three seasons, he packed his bags, headed back to India, and has carved out a career that has seen him play in the NFL in each season apart from this current one with Bengal Mumbai, see clubs spend over £30,000 in transfer fees to sign him (not a small sum in terms of Indian football), and earn 14 International Caps to add to his 125+ Senior League Appearances.

Now Europe could be calling him for another try as he hits the peak of his career. A handful of clubs from Bulgaria's Second Tier have targeted the cultured right footer with excellent passing ability, and with his contract running down, it could be a chance for him to prove himself at a higher level of football, and join the ranks of players who have impressed enough over the last few years for India to earn a shot at playing in a League outside of the domestic game.

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Wednesday 17th February 2016
Without playing, India move back up a few places in the FIFA World Rankings. Three places to be precise, and a new record high spot of 107th, as we move past Qatar, Cuba and Burundi. We are now just one spot behind Northern Ireland, the nation where I manage at domestic level, and the who were are playing in Belfast this summer.

Saturday 20th February
Back in September, the Under-23 side reached the final Group Stage in Asia's Qualifying for this summers Olympic Games Football Tournament in Brazil. After a discussion with the Board at Coleraine, they have fully supported me in my decision to continue taking charge of the India Under-23 squad for their Group B campaign, that will see half a dozen games played over the coming two and a half months, in an attempt to move on from our World Cup failure, and try and earn a place in the Olympics instead.

India Under-23 Squad for the 2016 Olympic Games Asian Qualifying Third Round Group B v Indonesia, Wednesday 24/2/2016 (H)

| Name                     | Position  | Club                      | Height  | Age     | Value   | International Status  |

| Kuldip Basheer           | GK        | East Bengal               | 5'7"    | 24      | £1K     |   4 Under-21 Caps     |
| Mohammed Babu            | GK        | Mohun Bagan               | 5'9"    | 19      | £9K     |   5 Under-21 Caps     |
| Mohammed Barua           | GK        | United SC                 | 5'10"   | 21      | -       |   8 Under-21 Caps     |
| Shankar Firoze           | GK        | Vasco                     | 5'11"   | 23      | £1K     |  Capped at Under-19   |
| Freddy Basheer           | D RC      | Pune FC                   | 5'10"   | 22      | -       |17 Under-21 Caps/1 Goal|
| Gumpe Singh              | D RC      | East Bengal               | 5'7"    | 24      | £8K     |   4 Caps / 1 Goal     |
| Sheikh Singh             | D RL      | SC Goa                    | 5'7"    | 23      | £1K     |3 Under-21 Caps/0 Goals|
| Dulal Bhattacharya       | D L       | Al-Faysali (JOR)          | 5'8"    | 23      | £3K     |   6 Caps / 1 Goal     |
| Paramjit Kumar           | D L       | Vasco                     | 5'7"    | 21      | £4K     |  12 Caps / 0 Goals    |
| Francisco Bhowmick       | D C       | Fukien (HKG)              | 5'10"   | 20      | -       |   4 Caps / 0 Goals    |
| Francisco Reja           | D C       | vv Heerjansdam (NED)      | 5'9"    | 20      | £8K     |   5 Caps / 0 Goals    |
| Jose Paul                | D C       | WIT-Georgia (GEO)         | 5'9"    | 23      | £16K    |  11 Caps / 3 Goals    |
| Zahid Liton              | D C       | Mohun Bagan               | 5'7"    | 23      | £5K     |   2 Caps / 0 Goals    |
| Amar Thakur              | D/WB/AM R | Air India                 | 5'5"    | 23      | £2K     |   3 Caps / 0 Goals    |
| Sanjay Singh             | D LC, M L | Indian Telephone SC       | 5'7"    | 17      | -       |   6 Caps / 0 Goals    |
| Joseph Lal               | WB/AM R   | East Bengal               | 5'9"    | 23      | £20K    |    1 Cap / 0 Goals    |
| Amit Singh               | DM, M C   | FC Nantes (FRA)           | 5'10"   | 17      | £50K    |  10 Caps / 0 Goals    |
| Asif Hossain             | M C       | Mohammedan                | 5'8"    | 23      | £2K     |10 Under-21 Caps/1 Goal|
| Mohammed Hassan          | M C       | SC Goa                    | 5'8"    | 23      | -       |    1 Cap / 0 Goals    |
| Mohammed Nayan           | M C       | Dempo                     | 5'9"    | 20      | £3K     | 8 Under-21 Caps/1 Goal|
| Mohd Jahangir Islam      | M C       | Dempo                     | 5'8"    | 23      | £14K    |       Uncapped        |
| Anthony Haque            | AM RL     | Viva Kerala               | 5'8"    | 22      | -       |       Uncapped        |
| Naresh Reja              | AM L      | Bhratri Sangha            | 5'10"   | 20      | -       |    1 Cap / 0 Goals    |
| Ashish Morje             | ST        | BEC Tero Sasana (THA)     | 5'8"    | 23      | £55K    |    1 Cap / 0 Goals    |
| Asif Ali                 | ST        | Mohammedan                | 5'7"    | 22      | £8K     |    1 Cap / 0 Goals    |
| Felix Basheer            | ST        | SC Goa                    | 5'8"    | 21      | £10K    | 9 Under-21 Caps/1 Goal|
| Shafiqul Islam Chowdhury | ST        |Vannes Olympique Club (FRA)| 6'4"    | 21      | £8K     |   3 Caps / 0 Goals    |
| Steven Chakraborty       | ST        | Mohammedan                | 6'0"    | 22      | £2K     | 1 Under-21 Cap/0 Goals| 

I've selected the strongest and most experienced squad that I could for this opening Group B fixture, where we will host Indonesia in New Delhi. Sixteen of the twenty six strong squad have been capped at Senior Level, and that number would have been higher had it not been for injuries. With seven of the selected players currently making their living in the game outside India, that accounts for over twenty five percent of those selected. The former stranglehold on places in the squad by players from East Bengal and Mohun Bagan shows no sign of returning either, with less than twenty percent coming from the nations two leading domestic teams.

Four times capped at Senior Level goalkeeper Mohammed Hossain would have been included, but a twisted ankle keeps him out of contention, and four keepers are selected with no clear number one at this level and Belgium based teenager Ganesh Aerts still banking on Belgium noticing his talents in the not too distant future.

A very strong defensive core is selected, with multiple players drafted in from the Senior Squad, and the likes of Francis Xavier Dias, Anwar and Vinod Ghosh very unfortunate to be left out of this selection.

In the midfield, Yadwinder Khan is just inside the age limit, but has an injury and misses out this time, with the same applying to Kuldip Kumar. There hasn't been enough football for Philip Paite to be considered, while French based teen defensive midfielder Karan Mollah was passed over this time for better options, despite him just passing 75 First Team games at club side AS Poissy.

Up front, we still have trouble trimming down the numbers from a very strong group, and I even have the luxury of two target men, with both French based Shafiqul Islam Chowdhury and his domestic alternative Steven Chakraborty included in the selection this time around, meaning no place for another European based forward, as Gautam Roy's lack of football with non-League club US Albigeoise in France means there is no place for him.

The media make note of the Squad containing so many players who have already played Senior International football, and they also concede that it's a selection policy out of necessity. Indonesia, our first opponents, and the nation expected to cause most competition to favourites Saudi Arabia in Group B, have selected nine players with a transfer market value that is currently into six figures, while we only have two that reach the £50,000 mark.

Fourteen of their squad play football outside of Indonesia, and two of them have around the 20 Senior caps mark and play at a very high level, because they are both excellent players. 21 year old midfielder Ivan Suganda is currently playing for Panathinaikos in the Greek Superleague, his first season with them after two seasons at AEK Athens persuaded his current employers to shell out £6m for his signature. He had already spent two seasons in South Korea after a domestic breakthrough at a young age in his homeland. Also considered the great hope of football in Indonesia is 23 year old right winger Jajang Rinaldi, who's second season with Ajax Amsterdam in Holland has seen him become a First Team regular, and be on course for a record production season after he joined from FC Twente last January for £4.6m, having previously played in Belgium for Cercle Brugge and in Croatia for HNK Cibalia.

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Sunday 21st February 2016
An injury blow, less than 24 hours after the squad is named. Mohammedan striker Asif Ali is forced to withdraw from the squad with a calf strain. It's a blow, as he has been prolific this season with Mohammedan, the club he rejoined after spells with Mohun Bagan and Mumbai FC. Called up as his replacement is his team mate Mohammed Chowdhury. Like Ali, the 21 year old has been prolific at his club this season too. Unlike Ali, he hasn't made his Senior International bow, but he has scored five times in ten caps at Under-21 Level.

Tuesday 23rd February
The eve of the game, and another blow for the Under-23's. And because it's so late on, this blow is terminal as far as this game goes. 21 year old left back Paramjit Kumar is out of tomorrow's game after sustaining a thigh injury during today's final training session. Already capped twelve times at Senior Level, it is a popular opinion that the injury proneness has cost the Vasco player more caps, and potentially a move into European Football. This time, there is no time to call up a replacement for him.

Indonesia Under-23's are our opening opponents tomorrow in New Delhi. As a nation, the South-East Asian country are ranked 70th in the latest FIFA World Rankings, though of course that list is based on the Senior results and not any age group games. They are expected to be the nation that challenges Saudi Arabia the closest in Group B though, with the Middle East nation the red hot favourites to win the section.

If we are to get anything from tomorrow's difficult opening game, we will absolutely need to be aware of the two star players that Indonesia have named in their Squad. The star pair of European based players are Ivan Suganda and Jajang Rinaldi, and we have made some plans to deal with both.

Wednesday 24th February

2016 Olympic Qualifiers, Asian Zone, Third Round, Group B
Ambedkar, New Delhi, India
India Under-23's v Indonesia Under-23's
Attendance :-
193. Weather :- Dry, 14c.

Our biggest selection dilemma is in goal, with Mohammed Barua getting the nod between the sticks. Outside of that, we rely heavily on players that have been capped at Senior level throughout the side. The biggest shock in selection actually comes from the visitors, with Indonesia leaving Ajax Amsterdam player Jajang Rinaldi on the substitutes bench. Are they underestimating us here?

Our plan to deal with Ivan Suganda became apparent to Indonesia from the start, as each time the Panathinaikos midfielder got possession he was surrounded by two or three players, and forced to pass sideways or backwards. It was a plan that brought it's early successes, Sanjay Singh spraying a cross field pass from the left and picking out Joseph Lal, the wingers cross into the box hitting a defender, Lal seeming to think it was on the arm, but the officials didn't agree. Moments later, in a role reversal of what we intended, Ashish Morje flicked the ball on to Shafiqul Islam Chowdhury in the box, but the big striker couldn't get enough on his shot and Didi Sukirman made a fairly straightforward stop with his legs. When Suganda did get some room for Indonesia, he showed his class, easily beating both Amit Singh and Sheikh Singh, but then failing to pick out a team mate with a cross. But ten minutes before the break he sent Melky Nasution into the right channel of the box, and he cut the ball back to the edge of the box for Agus Wijayanto, who curled a shot beyond Mohammed Barua and into the far corner to open the scoring, a lead that they would keep through half time, almost increasing it when Suganda again got free of his shackles and hit a curling shot that found the side netting only.

We came out in the second half looking for a goal, Islam Chowdhury flicking the ball on to Morje, the Thailand based striker spotting Sukirman off his line and lifting the ball over him, only to see it hit the top of the cross bar. But moments later we were level, Sheikh Singh trying a cross field pass that Jajang Sinaga should have cut out, but the ball slipped under his foot. Lal got to it before it reached the touchline, and he sent in a cross that picked out Morje at the far post, the striker burying the ball inside the far post to level the game up. Indonesia would immediately respond, having made one change in the first half, they now made another with the introduction of Jajang Rinaldi to try and spark them back into life. We had a plan for him too, though rather primitively, it was pretty much the same plan that we had for Suganda. We couldn't send three players around Suganda when he was taking a free kick, and he nearly benefited from his freedom as he sent a shot just wide of the goal frame. Recently introduced sub Rinaldi escaped from his markers on the hour, turning back inside to escape a Sheikh Singh tackle and sending in a cross that Nasution headed against the post as we dodged a bullet. We continued to try and push the issue ourselves, refusing to settle for a point as we switched out Amit Singh and Islam Chowdhury for Mohammed Hassan and Mohammed Chowdhury in straight swaps. Suganda got further away from the target with another free kick, this one was well and truly shanked. But in the 70th minute, with the help of Rinaldi, the dangerman would make us pay. He played a one-two as the pair drifted away from their markers and as they all tried to get back into position to prevent Rinaldi getting the ball back again, Suganda twisted in between two on the left edge of our box, and with everyone expecting a cross, he caught Barua cheating off his near post, and curled into inside that upright to put Indonesia back in front again. Our visitors immediately sank back into a defensive formation and we tried to get on the front foot by going more direct and pushing players further up the park. Sanjay Singh swung a free kick around the wall, but couldn't quite get enough curl on the ball to bring it back around onto the target. We were nearly caught on the counter attack as Suganda sent Rinaldi into space, but he blazed his shot well over the cross bar. With only seconds left in the four minutes of injury time, Amar Thakur got by a player on the right, and drilled a low cross into the box, keeper Sukirman tried to collect it but spilled the ball, and from five yards out Mohammed Nayan swung a boot at it, only to see it nicked from his toe and cleared from him and to safety, the ref blowing up for full time.

India Under-23's (0) 1 - Ashish Morje (54)
Indonesia Under-23's (1) 2 - Agus Wijayanto (35), Ivan Suganda (70)
Mohammed Barua; Amar Thakur ©, Jose Paul, Francisco Reja, Sheikh Singh; Joseph Lal, Amit Singh (Mohammed Hassan 61), Mohammed Nayan, Sanjay Singh; Ashish Morje, Shafiqul Islam Chowdhury (Mohammed Chowdhury 61).

Unused Substitutes :- Gumpe Singh, Kuldip Basheer (GK), Dulal Bhattacharya, Anthony Haque, Naresh Reja.
Bookings :- None
Possession :- 43% - 57%. Man of the Match :- Agus Wijayanto (Indonesia Under-23's)

So a slightly disappointing, but not altogether unexpected defeat in our Group B opener. We were competitive against a better side, and gave them a run for their money. The jury is out on whether we deserved a point though. In the other game in the section in Dammam, it was a routine home start for Saudi Arabia as they beat Syria 5-0, the hosts were already three to the good through a hatrick from Mansour Fallatah when the guests were reduced to ten men. They would add further goals from PSV Eindhoven forward Riyadh Al-Harbi and Tariq Al-Harbi. We host the Saudi's next in a fortnights time, which is likely going to provide us with a very stern test.

There were no shocks to be had in any of the other two Groups as they also got underway, the results going very much to the form book. We'll see if that continues in the next round of matches.

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Saturday 5th March 2016

 India Under-23 Squad for the 2016 Olympic Games Asian Qualifying Third Round Group B v Saudi Arabia (H) & Syria (A)

| Name                     | Position    | Club                  | Height  | Age     | Value   |  International Status  |

| Kuldip Basheer           | GK          | East Bengal           | 5'7"    | 24      | £1K     |    4 Under-21 Caps     |
| Mohammed Barua           | GK          | United SC             | 5'10"   | 21      | -       |    8 Under-21 Caps     |
| Seby Kumar               | GK          | Dempo                 | 5'8"    | 20      | £5K     |    7 Under-21 Caps     |
| Gumpe Singh              | D RC        | East Bengal           | 5'7"    | 24      | £9K     |    4 Caps / 1 Goal     |
| Sheikh Singh             | D RL        | SC Goa                | 5'7"    | 23      | £1K     |3 Under-21 Caps/0 Goals |
| Dulal Bhattacharya       | D L         | Al-Faysali (JOR)      | 5'8"    | 23      | £2K     |    6 Caps / 1 Goal     |
| Paramjit Kumar           | D L         | Vasco                 | 5'7"    | 21      | £4K     |   12 Caps / 0 Goals    |
| Francisco Bhowmick       | D C         | Fukien (HKG)          | 5'10"   | 20      | -       |    4 Caps / 0 Goals    |
| Francisco Reja           | D C         | vv Heerjansdam (NED)  | 5'9"    | 20      | £8K     |    5 Caps / 0 Goals    |
| Mohammad Hossain         | D C         | Mahindra Utd          | 5'9"    | 23      | -       |5 Under-21 Caps/0 Goals |
| Jose Paul                | D C         | WIT-Georgia (GEO)     | 5'9"    | 23      | £24K    |   11 Caps / 3 Goals    |
| Amar Thakur              | D/WB/AM R   | Air India             | 5'5"    | 23      | £2K     |    3 Caps / 0 Goals    |
| Sanjay Singh             | D LC, M L   | Indian Telephone SC   | 5'7"    | 17      | -       |    6 Caps / 0 Goals    |
| Joseph Lal               | WB/AM R     | East Bengal           | 5'9"    | 23      | £18K    |     1 Cap / 0 Goals    |
| Amit Singh               | DM, M C     | FC Nantes (FRA)       | 5'10"   | 17      | £50K    |   10 Caps / 0 Goals    |
| Asif Hossain             | M C         | Mohammedan            | 5'8"    | 23      | £2K     |10 Under-21 Caps/1 Goal |
| Mohammed Hassan          | M C         | SC Goa                | 5'8"    | 23      | -       |     1 Cap / 0 Goals    |
| Mohammed Nayan           | M C         | Dempo                 | 5'9"    | 20      | £3K     | 8 Under-21 Caps/1 Goal |
| Mohd Jahangir Islam      | M C         | Dempo                 | 5'8"    | 23      | £14K    |       Uncapped         |
| Anthony Haque            | AM RL       | Viva Kerala           | 5'8"    | 22      | -       |       Uncapped         |
| Naresh Reja              | AM L        | Bhratri Sangha        | 5'10"   | 20      | -       |     1 Cap / 0 Goals    |
| Ashish Morje             | ST          | BEC Tero Sasana (THA) | 5'8"    | 23      | £55K    |     1 Cap / 0 Goals    |
| Felix Basheer            | ST          | SC Goa                | 5'8"    | 21      | £10K    | 9 Under-21 Caps/1 Goal |
| Mohammed Chowdhury       | ST          | Mohammedan            | 5'8"    | 21      | £2K     |10 Under-21 Caps/5 Goals|
| Naushad Ghosh            | ST          | East Bengal           | 5'9"    | 24      | £4K     | 1 Under-21 Cap/ 1 Goal |
| Shafiqul Islam Chowdhury | ST          | Vannes Olympique (FRA)| 6'4"    | 21      | £6K     |     3 Caps / 0 Goals   |

It's a double header this time around for our oldest age group side as they get into the teeth of trying to qualify for the summers Olympic Games football tournament. Our best chance of a shock has come and gone already. Our opening game saw us host Indonesia in our best chance of causing a result that would be deemed an upset. We levelled after the break having fallen behind, but we couldn't hold on and conceded what would turn out to be the winner, though we certainly kept the game closer than many expected.

No one is holding out any hopes of us defeating a very good Saudi Arabia side when we host the first part of this double header of games. They defeated Syria 5-0 at home in their opening game, and traditionally select a squad build primarily on domestic based talent, unlike us. That is in stark contrast to what we can expect when we shift focus to the second game of this International Window, when we will make the journey to Aleppo to face a Syria side that will also be almost exclusively selected from home based players, but not through choice. The exception there is a player who earns his living in the country where I manage domestically. Earning his living may actually be a stretch, as 18 year old Syrian born British passport holder goalkeeper Abdullah Al-Martah is on a pay as he plays deal with Northern Irish First Division side Donegal Celtic. And he hasn't played for them yet this season. He does have eight caps at Under-21 level though, and has now been identified as their best keeper at this higher age group level. That is a game we are fully targeting for a win though.

So what about our own Squad selection for this pair of games? Well, I've made fairly few changes this time around, though I have selected one less keeper this time, with Mohammed Babu not available this time around and not replaced in the squad with another stopper. Instead, Babu joins Freddy Basheer and Zahid Liton in being left out of this squad, as their lack of form costs them a place. In their spot comes Mohammad Hossain, a centre back who gets rewarded for his excellent form with Mahindra United, though is leaving them in the summer for Mumbai Customs.

There are also changes up front, Asif Ali and Steven Chakraborty both out of this one, Ali due to injury and Chakraborty as a result of his lack of match fitness after receiving very little playing time recently. Receiving call up's in their places are two of the nations in form young strikers. Naushad Ghosh has played really well for East Bengal this season, just a goal short of hitting double figures for the campaign. He hasn't been offered a new deal though, and will cross the divide this summer to move to bitter rivals Mohun Bagan. Also on the move is Mohammed Chowdhury, who has scored goals that could be important in keeping Mohammedan in the NFL, and has earned himself a summer move to one of the seasons Title chasers, Dempo SC.

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Sunday 6th March 2016
In a competitive training session, 23 year old midfielder Asif Hossain came out second best in a challenge for a bouncing ball, catching a high boot to his head and suffering a gash that will likely rule him out of the midweek game at home to Saudi Arabia. However, this Squad also covers the game against Syria the following midweek as well, so Hossain will remain with the group.

Tuesday 8th March
Tomorrow is game day, but the weather is forecast to be very 'Un-Indian', with rain and gusty winds forecast. I don't know if that takes us, or the Saudi Arabian team out of their comfort zone more, but it's a variable, and I'm certainly happy to take it.

The Saudi's are at full strength, and have actually paid us a compliment by bringing such a strong squad out to New Dehli. There is plenty of experience in a group that is primarily domestic based, but does include a few players playing their football outside the Kingdom, and a few more that could make the move overseas in the not too distant future.

Wednesday 9th March

2016 Olympic Qualifiers, Asian Zone, Third Round, Group B
Ambedkar, New Delhi, India
India Under-23's v Saudi Arabia Under-23's
Attendance :-
192. Weather :- Gusty, Wet, 7c.

We've spent a few days training and getting to know a counter attacking 4-1DM-3-1AM-1 formation, which I'm hoping will be enough to prevent us from getting a hiding on the scoreboard today, but also have us in a position to try and cause our visitors some problems to deal with should the chance arise. There are no personnel changes from the starting lineup last time out here against Indonesia. That requires Amit Singh to drop into a holding defensive midfield role, which he is very adept at. Meanwhile, Shafiqul Islam Chowdhury shifts back into an attacking midfield role that he is very unfamiliar with, but is tasked with the job of holding the ball up when we manage to get it up the park this evening.

After ten minutes of holding our visitors at arms length, we were then undone with their first real rampage into the final third of the park. Hamed Al-Shareef send the ball curling down their left touchline, and Mansour Fallatah did well just to keep it in, then sending in a cross that picked out the head of Khaleel Al-Janoobi, who glanced a header across goal and into the far bottom corner to open the scoring in the 11th minute. It would have been really easy for my team to fall to pieces after that setback, and Miteb Al-Harbi tried to push us to do that when he stood up a cross to namesake Tariq Al-Harbi, but his header was comfortably caught by Mohammed Barua. Aside from shipping that goal, our plan was actually working out okay, and we were trying to apply some pressure of our own, Sanjay Singh sending over an inswinging cross from the left that bounced right through the penalty box, but there was no one there to apply the touch. When we tried our luck down the other side moments later, Joseph Lal won us a free kick. Sanjay would swing that one in as well, and someone in the Saudi defence shouted to leave it. As far as I'm aware, Ashish Morje doesn't speak Arabic, and he ignored that shout, getting in behind full back Omar Al-Balawi at the far post and bundling the ball home after his initial downward header was blocked by keeper Mohammed Al-Kharashi, his second goal of the Qualifiers and we had a surprise leveller just before half time. Unfortunately, it seemed we had done nothing but kick a wasps nest and made it angry, and the Saudi's immediately upped their game. Ayman Sharaheli forced Barua to tip a shot from 25 yards over his cross bar, before in injury time the same player played a pass into a similar area where he had just shot from, and Tariq Al-Harbi had a go, sending his low shot skidding off the wet turf and beyond Barua's dive into the bottom corner to give the Saudi's the lead back and prevent us from escaping the first half with parity on the scoreboard.

That was a real shame we couldn't reach the break level, but the players spirits were still pretty high even before I gave them some half time encouragement. No changes to the personnel or tactics to get back underway, and Sanjay needed some help from Jose Paul to strip possession away from Fayez Al-Salman in our own box without giving away a penalty. Midway through the half and I made a couple of changes, Francisco Reja coming off in straight swap for Gumpe Singh, while Shafiqul Islam Chowdhury's shift as a very deep lying target man was over, and instead the pace and skill of Mohammed Hassan would be utilised in that spot. Tariq Al-Harbi tried to extend the Saudi lead as he got into the right corner of our penalty box and flashed a shot across goal and wide of the far post. They would create a better chance still just over ten minutes from time, Youssuf Al-Shahrani sending a diagonal pass into the box that found Al-Balawi and his shot from point blank range was stopped by Barua, the rebound running loose to sub Aied Al-Zahrani, but he didn't get everything on his shot, and Barua clutched the ball gratefully as we were still hanging on in the game. But we couldn't hold out much longer, and in the 83rd minute a Mohsin Masoud corner was sent in deep, Al-Balawi headed it at goal only to see it headed off the line. But that header went only to Naser Al-Dossari, and he drove his low shot through the crowded goalmouth and into the net to break our resistance and slim hopes of earning a shock result.

India Under-23's (1) 1 - Ashish Morje (42)
Saudi Arabia Under-23's (2) 3 - Khaleel Al-Janoobi (11), Tariq Al-Harbi (45+2), Naser Al-Dossari (83)
Mohammed Barua; Amar Thakur ©, Jose Paul, Francisco Reja (Gumpe Singh 68), Sheikh Singh; Amit Singh; Joseph Lal, Mohammed Nayan, Sanjay Singh; Shafiqul Islam Chowdhury (Mohammed Hassan 68); Ashish Morje (Felix Basheer 87).

Unused Substitutes :- Seby Kumar (GK), Paramjit Kumar, Anthony Haque, Mohn Jahangir Islam.
Bookings :- None
Possession :- 48% - 52%. Man of the Match :- Tariq Al-Harbi (Saudi Arabia Under-23's).

I don't want us to be one of those nations that accepts gallant failure. That's the footballing nation we used to be, and we have moved on a huge amount over recent years. But, we do need to realise that we have been very competitive in two Olympic Qualifiers against nations who were predicted to give us a bit of a battering.

Our opportunity to be the favourites comes next, as we have away and home games with Syria coming up. They have played Saudi and Indonesia away in their opening two games, and have lost 5-0 and 4-0 respectively. Let's see how we cope next week with a fixture that we are predicted to win ourselves in Aleppo.

Before then, I have to return to Northern Ireland for a double header of fixtures. I'll be leaving the Under-23's in the capable hands of my Senior coaching staff, and I'll meet them in Syria on the day of the game next week.

2016 Olympic Football Tournament Qualifiers, Asian Zone, Third Round, Group B. Up To & Including Wednesday 9th March 2016

| Pos   | Inf   | Team         |       | Pld   | Won   | Drn   | Lst   | For   | Ag    | G.D.  | Pts   |

| 1st   |       | Saudi Arabia |       | 2     | 2     | 0     | 0     | 8     | 1     | +7    | 6     |
| 2nd   |       | Indonesia    |       | 2     | 2     | 0     | 0     | 6     | 1     | +5    | 6     |
| 3rd   |       | India        |       | 2     | 0     | 0     | 2     | 2     | 5     | -3    | 0     |
| 4th   |       | Syria        |       | 2     | 0     | 0     | 2     | 0     | 9     | -9    | 0     |


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Wednesday 16th March 2016
I'm back in Asia, and less than fresh after an overnight flight from Belfast into Syria courtesy of the Indian FA's own plane, after taking charge of last night's Intermediate Cup Semi-Final victory with Coleraine. I arrive to the news that in the latest FIFA World Rankings, we have crept up another spot and into 106th place, one spot ahead of the nation where I earn my day to day living, Northern Ireland, who we are due to face in a Friendly this summer, and moving ahead of another Asian nation, as Kuwait now sit a couple of spots behind us.

The opponents for us in tonight's Olympic Qualifying match have dropped a few spots in that World Ranking, but Syria are still ranked above us and in a Top 100 spot that we covet. They are now ranked 98th, but are starting to fall back into our laps. I have to say that I don't believe for a second that they are better than us, and I'm hoping our Under-23's are up to the task of proving just that this evening in Aleppo, the biggest city in the country by population, with almost two million people residing in the city.

Their Under-23 Squad is lacking in both depth and quality it has to be said, and that is after they have taken any eligible fully capped players in their selection. The Senior Squad does feature primarily players that have left the Middle East nation, and are playing their football across Europe, with Sweden the most popular landing spot, while Greece and Belgium are also represented.

That isn't the case for the highest age group side, who have just one player who currently plays in Europe, and 18 year old goalkeeper Abdullah Al-Martah is yet to make his debut for Donegal Celtic in almost two seasons with the Ulster club. The remaining domestic based players are primarily from the dominant Al-Wahda and Al-Ittihad clubs, while Al-Jaish and Al-Wajda also have representation. The pick of their players is left footed attacking midfielder Jihad Barnawi, a 22 year old who has already picked up 13 Senior International caps since being debuted as a 17 year old, and has a Senior Goal at the top level to his name too. His 20 year old club mate Maher Amin is probably this age group sides most capable defender, and we'll be hoping to test his abilities to the full today.

2016 Olympic Qualifiers, Asian Zone, Third Round, Group B
Hamadaniya Stadium, Aleppo, Syria
Syria Under-23's v India Under-23's
Attendance :-
385. Weather :- Dry, 17c.

There are some changes from last time out and the battling home defeat against Saudi Arabia last week. We are returning to the modified 4-4-2 that has been our regular tactic for a while now. Paramjit Kumar comes into the left back spot ahead of Sheikh Singh in the only change to the starting lineup. There are more changes amongst the substitutes, with Dulal Bhattacharya and Naresh Reja brought into the matchday squad in place of Singh and Mohd Jahangir Islam.

Jihad Barnawi has a reputation for having plenty of pace on the Syrian left side, but Amar Thakur eased by him with his own turn of speed which set up the opening chance of the game, the ball played through the midfield and into the box for Ashish Morje, but he took a second or two to bring it under control which allowed keeper Ayham Ali to get off his line and block the shot when it came in. But it would only take us a few more minutes to break the Syrians open, Paramjit Kumar swinging in a left footed corner, and just as it looked like it would beat everyone, Sanjay Singh applied the finish at the far post. Thakur's pace was no good to him in the 13th minute minute when he found himself in an aerial duel with Ali Gordan. The Syria forward got the ball headed on to Barnawi, and he cut inside before finding Ahmad Al-Hosani, who's low curling shot beat Mohammed Barua's dive and levelled the score back up. The chances were flowing in an end to end game, and in the 20th minute we took the lead for a second time, Amit Singh playing a pass into Mohammed Nayan on the right corner of the box, and he held the ball up before squaring it for Morje, who swept home from 15 yards out to give us a second advantage of the evening. We were looking good, and Shafiqul Islam Chowdhury tried to get in on the act when he brought the ball down and let a shot go that didn't quite dip enough to trouble the goalie this time. With ten minutes to go till the break, and Syria trying to find a way back into the game, we caught them once more, this time with a swift and clinical counter attack. Thakur arched a long ball down the right touchline to send Joseph Lal into acres of space, the winger cutting back into the box before pulling the ball back towards Morje, keeper Ali getting a hand to it but unable to keep it out, Morje denied a second as it was deemed after a replay that his shot was heading wide until it took a deflection off Mohammed Amiri, who will instead will be credited with an own goal he'd rather not have. Morje had two more goes at securing his brace before the break, one effort flying over the top, while a second was pushed away by Ali.

A two goal lead at the break was a nice position to be in, but this Syrian side saw us as their best chance to get some points on the board in this competition. Half time sub Mohammed Saif's quick throw in found Amiri with his back to goal and he laid the ball back to skipper Jalal Fadhel who caught Barua cheating on the near post and struck a shot by him to cut the lead back down to a single goal. A cross into the box from Sanjay unfortunately landed on the head of the wrong player as far as we were concerned, as it cleared Islam Chowdhury and landed on the head of Nayan who couldn't hit the target. But number four was on the way, Syria learning the hard way that you can't give Kumar all the time in the world on the left wing, as he picked a beautiful diagonal cross that cut out the whole Syrian defence and landed on the boot of Lal, who brought it down before beating Ali on his near post to make it a 4-2 lead. Kumar could've actually got a goal of his own, but when presented with a free kick from the edge of the box, he got over ambitious, and tried to put too much power on his effort, getting it all wrong this time. That actually signalled the start of a much quieter period of the game, the first such period actually. With the clock starting to run down, and Syria finally starting to run out of steam, I made some changes, Jose Paul and Islam Chowdhury both coming off with around twenty minutes remaining. We were still playing some lovely football, and I'd just made my final change down the left replacing Sanjay with Naresh Reja when we opened Syria up one more time. Unfortunately for Reja it wasn't down his side of the park, Lal throwing the ball into the box from the right, Morje holding it up before going down believing he was fouled, but the ref was saved from making a decision when Felix Basheer smashed the loose ball across goal and right into the top corner to finish off an excellent overall performance for us.

Syria Under-23's (1) 2 - Ahmad Al-Hosani (13), Jalal Fadhel (49)
India Under-23's (3) 5 - Sanjay Singh (7), Ashish Morje (20), Mohammed Amiri (35 og), Jospeh Lal (55), Felix Basheer (85)
Mohammed Barua; Amar Thakur ©, Jose Paul (Gumpe Singh 70), Francisco Reja, Paramjit Kumar; Amit Singh, Mohammed Nayan; Joseph Lal, Sanjay Singh (Naresh Reja 84); Ashish Morje, Shafiqul Islam Chowdhury (Felix Basheer 70).

Unused Substitutes :- Seby Kumar (GK), Dulal Bhattacharya, Anthony Haque, Mohammed Hassan.
Bookings :- None
Possession :- 39% - 61%. Man of the Match :- Joseph Lal (India Under-23's).

Those other nations in our Group are so borrring with their players at their big clubs etc. Was their game as entertaining as ours was to watch? No, of course it wasn't, a lukewarm 1-0 Saudi win over Indonesia in Riyadh that is hardly likely to have impressed those that showed up in the King Fahd International Stadium. We will of course fancy our chances of beating Syria again when they visit us in New Delhi next month, but before that, we will be the visitors in Saudi when they host us in Damman early next month. Clearly, that is likely to be a completely different level of task for us.

2016 Olympic Football Tournament Qualifiers, Asian Zone, Third Round, Group B. Up To & Including Wednesday 16th March 2016

| Pos   | Inf   | Team         |       | Pld   | Won   | Drn   | Lst   | For   | Ag    | G.D.  | Pts   |

| 1st   |       | Saudi Arabia |       | 3     | 3     | 0     | 0     | 9     | 1     | +8    | 9     |
| 2nd   |       | Indonesia    |       | 3     | 2     | 0     | 1     | 6     | 2     | +4    | 6     |
| 3rd   |       | India        |       | 3     | 1     | 0     | 2     | 7     | 7     | 0     | 3     |
| 4th   |       | Syria        |       | 3     | 0     | 0     | 3     | 2     | 14    | -12   | 0     |

Friday 25th March
I'm hoping this is a good news day for India, though we will have to wait a little while longer to find out I guess. Today the draw has been made for the Preliminary Round of the 2019 Asian Nations Cup Qualifiers. Four nations have been paired into two ties, and those nations are The Maldives, Turkmenistan, Thailand and Vietnam. The relevance of this is that those four nations are all ranked below us, and there are several more Asian countries between them and us as well, namely Kuwait, Qatar, North Korea, Hong Kong, and Malaysia.

If this means what it looks like it means, and that we will be in the draw for the next round, fingers crossed, then our goal of moving up the World Rankings far enough to be involved after missing out last time has been achieved. What it also means if that is the case, is that the cut off line to be involved would be 139th, the place occupied by Yemen who are it would appear the highest ranked nation not included, along with nations below them including Palestine, Guam, Tajikistan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Brunei Darussalam, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Laos, Bangladesh, The Philippines, Taiwan, Myanmar, Bhutan, Pakistan, East Timor, Cambodia, Macau and Nepal.

None of this might seem like a big deal. But firstly, it highlights the huge progress we have made in my near three years in charge. But secondly, if we are not involved in this Continental Championship, then there are serious questions to be asked about whether it's worth continuing with my project here in India. I'm not just here to improve their fortunes, but also my own reputation in the global game. Competitive football is the only way to do that, and a lack of that will have me reconsidering my options.

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Sunday 3rd April 2016

India Under-23 Squad for 2016 Olympic Games Asian Qualifying Third Round Group B v Saudi Arabia (A)

| Name                           | Position       | Club                   |Height|Age |Value|  International Status  |

| Ganesh Aerts                   | GK             | AA Gent (BEL)          | 6'0" | 19 | £2K |      Uncapped          |
| Kuldip Basheer                 | GK             | East Bengal            | 5'7" | 24 | £1K |4 Under-21 Caps/0 Goals |
| Seby Kumar                     | GK             | Dempo                  | 5'8" | 20 | £5K |7 Under-21 Caps/0 Goals |
| Gumpe Singh                    | D RC           | East Bengal            | 5'7" | 24 | £9K |  4 Senior Caps/1 Goal  |
| Sheikh Singh                   | D RL           | SC Goa                 | 5'7" | 23 | £1K |3 Under-21 Caps/0 Goals |
| Francis Xavier Dias            | D L            | Mohun Bagan            | 5'7" | 21 | £5K |  1 Senior Cap/0 Goals  |
| Paramjit Kumar                 | D L            | Vasco                  | 5'7" | 21 | £4K | 12 Senior Caps/0 Goals |
| Francisco Bhowmick             | D C            | Fukien (HKG)           | 5'10"| 20 |  -  |  4 Senior Caps/0 Goals |
| Francisco Reja                 | D C            | vv Heerjansdam (NED)   | 5'9" | 20 | £8K |  5 Senior Caps/0 Goals |
| Mohammad Hossain               | D C            | Mahindra Utd           | 5'9" | 24 |  -  |5 Under-21 Caps/0 Goals |
| Jose Paul                      | D C            | WIT-Georgia (GEO)      | 5'9" | 24 | £20K| 11 Senior Caps/3 Goals |
| Anthony D'Souza                | D/WB R,DM, M RC| Viva Kerala            | 5'9" | 22 | £1K |2 Under-21 Caps/0 Goals |
| Amar Thakur                    | D/WB/AM R      | Air India              | 5'5" | 23 | £2K |  3 Senior Caps/0 Goals |
| Sanjay Singh                   | D LC, M L      | Indian Telephone SC    | 5'7" | 17 |  -  |  6 Senior Caps/0 Goals |
| Dinesh Fernandes               | D C, DM, M C   | Dempo                  | 5'10"| 20 | £3K |7 Under-21 Caps/0 Goals |
| Amit Singh                     | DM, M C        | FC Nantes (FRA)        | 5'10"| 17 | £50K| 10 Senior Caps/0 Goals |
| Karan Mollah                   | DM, M C        | AS Poissy (FRA)        | 5'7" | 18 | £1K |   1 Senior Cap/0 Goals |
| Mohammed Hassan                | M C            | SC Goa                 | 5'8" | 23 | £1K |   1 Senior Cap/0 Goals |
| Mohammed Nayan                 | M C            | Dempo                  | 5'9" | 20 | £3K | 8 Under-21 Caps/1 Goal |
| Mohd Jahangir Islam            | M C            | Dempo                  | 5'8" | 23 | £14K|       Uncapped         |
| Anthony Haque                  | AM RL          | Viva Kerala            | 5'8" | 22 |  -  |       Uncapped         |
| Naresh Reja                    | AM L           | Bhratri Sangha         | 5'10"| 20 |  -  |   1 Senior Cap/0 Goals |
| Ashish Morje                   | ST             | BEC Tero Sasana (THA)  | 5'8" | 23 | £55K|   1 Senior Cap/0 Goals |
| Felix Basheer                  | ST             | SC Goa                 | 5'8" | 21 | £10K| 9 Under-21 Caps/1 Goal |
| Mohammed Chowdhury             | ST             | Mohammedan             | 5'8" | 21 | £2K |10 Under-21 Caps/5 Goals|
| Shafiqul Islam Chowdhury       | ST             | Vannes Olympique (FRA) | 6'4" | 22 | £6K |  3 Senior Caps/0 Goals |

Surprising, but very welcome news for India ahead of the fourth Group B Qualifier for this summers Olympic Games Football Tournament. 19 year old Belgian born and based goalkeeper Ganesh Aerts has abandoned his dreams of playing International Football for the European Nation, and has accepted an invite to be part of the India Squad at the umpteenth time of asking. He is about to complete his third season with AA Gent, and while still thought to be held in high regard by the staff, he has yet to make his Senior Competitive Debut for the club, and his contract now has a little under three months to run. His addition to our National Pool is an excellent one, and the only real question now is whether to give him a baptism of fire in Damman against the red hot favourites for Group B and next opponents Saudi Arabia, or ease him in with the more favourable fixture at home to Syria in a couple of weeks time. It is United SC's only representative in the squad Mohammed Barua who is dropped to make way for the newcomer.

In other changes from the last selection, Dulal Bhattacharya is the new example of playing your football abroad not being a guarantee of being selected, the Jordan based left backs lack of both form and fitness has seen him left out this time, with his place going to Mohun Bagan's twenty one year old Francis Xavier Dias. There is an extra full back selected as well, with one less striker picked for this game. The beneficiary of that decision is Anthony D'Souza, who is enjoying the most productive season of his career so far at Viva Kerala, and brings a positional versatility that would make him an ideal candidate for duty on the bench should we need to make an adjustment if 'Plan's A, B, C or D' need some modifying.

There are more changes made in the midfield area of the park, as I bring defensive midfielders in at the sacrifice of some of the playmaking ability that I like to be able to call upon. You have to play the odds sometimes, right? The exception there is Joseph Lal, the right winger is out with injury and isn't directly replaced with Anthony Haque already in the previous selections. Instead Asif Hossain joins him in being left behind, and in come Dempo's hard tackling and hard working twenty year old defensive midfielder Dinesh Fernandes, and the youngster who started a huge controversy early in my tenure in charge of India, the French based defensive midfielder Karan Mollah, who remains at the same club and continues to make slow but steady improvements as he picks up large amounts of First Team experience despite his club being whipping boys in France's fourth tier.

Finally up front, where as previously mentioned we drop from five strikers down to just four. East Bengal's forward Naushad Ghosh is the one to miss out. If the Saudi's are paying attention, and notice that we have dropped the selected number of strikers for this game, it may give them some idea of our intention's for Wednesday evening in the Prince Mohammed bin Fahd Stadium.

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Tuesday 5th April 2016
So tomorrow we have our Under-23's back in action, and this is highly likely to be the toughest test of the Group B schedule in the Olympic Qualifiers. We are in Saudi Arabia's fifth most populated city, Dammam, populated for almost one hundred years now, and currently home to almost 1.25 million people, though only a very tiny fraction of them will be at the game today. Our hosts are going into this one with a 100% record and getting close to earning their spot in the Olympic Games, and they are the red hot favourites to not only beat us tomorrow, but give us a bit of a thumping. I'm obviously hoping that won't be the case, but realistically a positive result for us would be getting close to a football miracle.

Wednesday 6th April

2016 Olympic Qualifiers, Asian Zone, Third Round, Group B
Prince Mohammed bin Fahd Stadium, Dammam, Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia Under-23's v India Under-23's
Attendance :-
548. Weather :- Wet, 22c.

I don't like being in a position where we have to play defensively, but the odds are stacked against us here, and the last thing I want is to see our young lads on the end of a cricket score that could have been avoided. The plan is to go with a back four, and another defensive line of four right in front of them, with a midfielder and striker further up the park. If things go well, I'm hoping we can then progressively transition and cause them some problems of their own. Ganesh Aerts is selected in goal, and the Belgian based keeper will represent India for the first time ever at any level. Dinesh Fernandes is brought in to join Amit Singh in the middle in front of the defence, with Anthony D'Souza coming in to replace the injured Joseph Lal on the right in a wing back role.

Despite in effect double covering the Saudi wingers, we struggled to prevent them getting their crosses into the box in the early stages, Riyadh Al-Harbi putting in the best early one and picking out Miteb Al-Harbi on the far post, but he couldn't keep his header down. Moments later Tariq Al-Harbi and Fawzi Al-Shemmari combined to play in Mansour Fallatah, but his shot curled away from goal and wide. Tariq then swept in a shot on the turn himself that just cleared the cross bar, and we could celebrate surviving the opening quarter of the game. But we wouldn't be able to keep out our hosts much longer, Fayez Al-Salman sending in a diagonal ball in the 26th minute, and as it looked like it would run harmlessly through to Ganesh Aerts, up popped Al-Shemmari to use his head to divert it out of the keepers reach and into the net. To our credit, we almost hit right back, Ashish Morje looked to have reached a dead end down the right channel, but he cut a pass back to Dinesh Fernandes who's dipping effort at goal didn't quite dip enough. However normal service would be resumed a few minutes before the break, Al-Salman again the creator with a deeper cross this time, and Miteb brought it down before beating Aerts with a powerful drive inside the far post to make it 2-0 at the break.

With little to lose now, I changed things up at the interval, reverting us back to the wide 4-2-2-2 that we usually utilise, and replacing Fernandes and Anthony D'Souza with Anthony Haque and Felix Basheer. That brought about a surprising change of tone to the game, with us getting into a good spell of possession and creating chances, the best of which went begging before the hour when Amar Thakur's cross from the right skipped off the wet surface and evaded the finishing touch required by both Morje and Sanjay Singh. It was enough of a concern to force the Saudi's into changing tact with their substitutions all made in a ten minute spell, although it was Fallatah that was denied their third goal, his free kick seemingly headed for the top corner until Aerts got fingertips to the ball and touched it over the bar with a spectacular stop. Not as spectacular as the next free kick our opponents would try their luck from a few minutes later though, Aerts able to do nothing at all about Hamed Al-Shareef's 79th minute piledriver set piece from all of 30 yards that found it's way past the edge of the wall and into the net via the underside of the cross bar. We did almost salvage some pride late on, Paramjit Kumar's inswinging corner picking out the head of Jose Paul, but the centre back couldn't keep his header down, and we were denied even a consolation goal today.

Saudi Arabia Under-23's (2) 3 - Fawzi Al-Shemmari (26), Miteb Al-Harbi (41), Hamed Al-Shareef (79)
India Under-23's (0) 0
Ganesh Aerts; Amar Thakur ©, Jose Paul, Francisco Reja, Paramjit Kumar; Anthony D'Souza (Anthony Haque 45), Amit Singh, Dinesh Fernandes (Felix Basheer 45), Sanjay Singh; Mohammed Nayan (Mohammed Hassan 75); Ashish Morje.
Unused Substitutes :- Gumpe Singh, Seby Kumar (GK), Sheikh Singh, Karan Mollah.
Bookings :- None
Possession :- 44%- 56%. Man of the Match :- Miteb Al-Harbi (Saudi Arabia Under-23's).

That victory, and a fairly comfortable one achieved without ever really getting into top gear, leaves Saudi Arabia knowing that a win over Indonesia in a fortnight's time in the penultimate round of games will secure their place at this summers Olympic Games Football Tournament, while a draw would also quite likely be enough with them facing Syria in their final game should they still need a result. Syria remain rooted to the foot of the Group B table after losing 3-0 tonight in Jableh at home to Indonesia. They'll be making the trip to New Delhi next time around, where we'll be looking to secure third place at least, and also potentially looking to bring in some players who are eligible for other nations as well as India, and commit them to our National Pool going forward. There's a few in that position, some good enough to potentially play Senior football, some maybe not so. But giving them a few minutes at least to remove the doubt isn't going to do us any harm.

2016 Olympic Football Tournament Qualifiers, Asian Zone, Third Round, Group B. Up To & Including Wednesday 6th April 2016

| Pos   | Inf   | Team         |       | Pld   | Won   | Drn   | Lst   | For   | Ag    | G.D.  | Pts   |

| 1st   |       | Saudi Arabia |       | 4     | 4     | 0     | 0     | 12    | 1     | +11   | 12    |
| 2nd   |       | Indonesia    |       | 4     | 3     | 0     | 1     | 9     | 2     | +7    | 9     |
| 3rd   |       | India        |       | 4     | 1     | 0     | 3     | 7     | 10    | -3    | 3     |
| 4th   |       | Syria        |       | 4     | 0     | 0     | 4     | 2     | 17    | -15   | 0     |


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  • 5 months later...

Thursday 7th April 2016
Our calendar has dates set aside for Asian Nations Cup Qualifiers, which I'm delighted about. All indications are that our calendar for next year will have competitive Senior football in it. There will, subject to change, also be some good competitive Friendly games too, as I organise a trio of games that I hope won't get cancelled. We are now scheduled to play away to Cyprus at the end of March next year, before a June double header that will see us host Kuwait on a Saturday, before travelling to face The Philippines on the following Wednesday.

Wednesday 13th April
We have dropped one more spot today with the release of the updated FIFA World Rankings. We now sit in 107th place, with the nation moving past us identified as the small Middle Eastern territory of Qatar. The Rankings are currently headed by South American heavyweights, Argentina.

Saturday 16th April
It's Squad Selection time once again as we get near the end of our Olympic Games Qualification schedule. This time it's our penultimate match, and our final home game of Group B, as we prepare to host Syria next week. We gave them a 5-2 going over in Aleppo last month, and all expectations are on us picking up our second win of the phase in New Delhi on Wednesday evening.

India Under-23 Squad for 2016 Olympic Games Asian Qualifying Third Round Group B v Syria (H)

| Name                     |   Position   |       Club           | Height | Age | Value   |   International Status   |

| Ganesh Aerts             | GK           |  AA Gent (BEL)       | 6'0"   | 19  |  £2K    | Capped at Under-23 Level |
| Kuldip Basheer           | GK           |  East Bengal         | 5'7"   | 24  |  £1K    | 4 Under-21 Caps/ 0 Goals |
| Seby Kumar               | GK           |  Dempo               | 5'8"   | 20  |  £5K    | 7 Under-21 Caps/ 0 Goals |
| Gumpe Singh              | D RC         |  East Bengal         | 5'7"   | 24  |  £9K    |  4 Senior Caps / 1 Goal  |
| Sheikh Singh             | D RL         |  SC Goa              | 5'7"   | 23  |  £1K    | 3 Under-21 Caps/ 0 Goals |
| Francis Xavier Dias      | D L          |  Mohun Bagan         | 5'7"   | 21  |  £6K    |  1 Senior Cap / 0 Goals  |
| Paramjit Kumar           | D L          |  Vasco               | 5'7"   | 21  |  £4K    | 12 Senior Caps / 0 Goals |
| Francisco Bhowmick       | D C          |  Fukien (HKG)        | 5'10"  | 20  |  -      |  4 Senior Caps / 0 Goals |
| Francisco Reja           | D C          | vv Heerjansdam (NED) | 5'9"   | 20  |  £8K    |  5 Senior Caps / 0 Goals |
| Mohammad Hossain         | D C          |  Mahindra Utd        | 5'9"   | 24  |  -      | 5 Under-21 Caps/ 0 Goals |
| Jose Paul                | D C          |  WIT-Georgia (GEO)   | 5'9"   | 24  |  £20K   | 11 Senior Caps / 3 Goals |
| Sanjay Singh             | D LC, M L    | Indian Telephone SC  | 5'7"   | 17  |  -      |  6 Senior Caps / 0 Goals |
| Dinesh Fernandes         | D C, DM, M C |  Dempo               | 5'10"  | 20  |  £3K    | 7 Under-21 Caps/ 0 Goals |
| Anthony D'Souza          |D/WB R,DM,M RC|  Viva Kerala         | 5'9"   | 22  |  £1K    | 2 Under-21 Caps/ 0 Goals |
| Amar Thakur              | D/WB/AM R    |  Air India           | 5'5"   | 23  |  £2K    |  3 Senior Caps / 0 Goals |
| Joseph Lal               | WB/AM R      |  East Bengal         | 5'9"   | 23  |  £18K   |  1 Senior Cap / 0 Goals  |
| Amit Singh               | DM, M C      |  FC Nantes (FRA)     | 5'10"  | 17  |  £50K   |  10 Senior Caps/ 0 Goals |
| Mohammed Hassan          | M C          |  SC Goa              | 5'8"   | 23  |  £1K    |  1 Senior Cap / 0 Goals  |
| Mohammed Nayan           | M C          |  Dempo               | 5'9"   | 20  |  £3K    |  8 Under-21 Caps/ 1 Goal |
| Mohd Jahangir Islam      | M C          |  Dempo               | 5'8"   | 23  |  £14K   |       Uncapped           |
| Naresh Reja              | AM L         |  Bhratri Sangha      | 5'10"  | 20  |  -      |  1 Senior Cap / 0 Goals  |
| Ashish Morje             | ST           | BEC Tero Sasana (THA)| 5'8"   | 23  |  £55K   |  1 Senior Cap / 0 Goals  |
| Felix Basheer            | ST           |  SC Goa              | 5'8"   | 21  |  £9K    |  9 Under-21 Caps/ 1 Goal |
| Mohammed Chowdhury       | ST           |  Mohammedan          | 5'8"   | 21  |  £2K    | 10 Under-21 Caps/ 5 Goals|
| Shafiqul Islam Chowdhury | ST           |Vannes Olympique (FRA)| 6'4"   | 22  |  £6K    |  3 Senior Caps / 0 Goals |
| Amit Miranda             | D C, ST      |  Meerle (BEL)        | 5'9"   | 16  |  -      |       Uncapped           |

In the end, I made less changes than anticipated previously. With the news that any new players brought in and capped at this Under-23 level would still remain able to jump ship and play for another nation that they may be eligible for at Senior level, it was decided it would be better not to draw attention to those players instead. Don't get me wrong, we haven't suddenly uncovered any gems that Belgium and the like are going to want to have in their National Pool, but there are a few players also eligible for the likes of Hong Kong and Australia, plus a few British passport holders as well. I'd rather we had them in our Pool than allow other nations in Asia to potentially call on them should they see career development that takes them beyond expectations.

Anthony Haque and Karan Mollah are both left out from the last squad. In their place come the returning right winger Joseph Lal of the East Bengal club, who missed out last time around through injury. Also brought into the fold for the first time is Belgium based sixteen year old Amir Miranda. Born in Mumbai, and less than six months away from being the first Millennial involved in the Indian setup, Miranda can play as either a striker or centre back. This is his first year of availability as a Senior player, but it's Under-19 football that he has been playing with Meerle, a non-League club in Belgium who play in the Antwerp Provincial leagues. The jury is out on whether he would have accepted a call-up for the Senior Squad, especially based on how long it took us to get Ganesh Aerts to commit to the Indian cause. But for now, he is someone we can take a look at potentially in this match, and keep an eye on moving forward.

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