The Indian football team was dealt a huge blow on Monday (March 7) as its talismanic captain Sunil Chhetri was ruled out of the upcoming international friendly matches against Bahrain and Belarus due to injury. The 37-year-old forward had been named among the 38-member probables by coach Igor Stimac for the matches to be played in Manama on March 23 and 26.

”I was really looking forward to the two friendlies against Baharain and Belarus and it’s a shame I’ll be missing out,” Chhetri told the All India Football Federation (AIFF) website.

”It’s been a long, tough season and I’ve suffered a few small injuries that need time to heal. I will be doing all I can to recover in time for the predatory camp in May,” he added.

As many as eight new faces figured in the list of 38 probables named for the preparatory camp ahead of the friendlies.

”The potential this squad possesses is immense, and a lot of the lads are riding high on confidence on the back of good performances in the League season. I’m certain we’ll put out best foot forward. I’m wishing the team all the luck,” said Chhetri who did not specify the nature of the injury.

Goalkeepers Prabhshukhan Gill and Mohammad Nawaz, defenders Deepak Tangri and Roshan Singh, and midfielders Vikram Partap Singh, VP Suhair, Aniket Jadav and Jerry Mawihmingthanga got their maiden national camp call-up for the two matches. The AIFF said midfileder Ashique Kuruniyan, who was also named for the preparatory camp, is under rehabilitation.

The players, along with the head coach and the staff, will assemble in Pune on March 10, for the camp with practice starting from next day onwards. The players whose clubs would be playing in the semi-finals of the ongoing Indian Super League will be joining the camp as and when their club commitments end.

The contingent will be flying to Bahrain on March 21. The Blue Tigers are scheduled to play Bahrain on March 23, and Belarus on March 26, with both matches kicking-off at 9.30 pm IST. There is still a cloud of uncertainty whether India will play against Belarus as the AIFF had said on Tuesday that it was trying to ”avoid” playing against the east European country which had extended support to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

FIFA has suspended Russia but has not announced any such measure for Belarus as yet. Last week, European football governing body UEFA barred Belarus from hosting international games but it will have no impact on India’s international friendly.

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