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SAFF Cup 2018: When effective scouting turned Manvir Singh & Davinder Singh’s careers around! – football news

On Wednesday night at the Bangabandhu National Stadium in Dhaka, two 22-year-olds from Punjab were making India proud in their semi-final clash against arch-rivals Pakistan.

While Manvir Singh scored a well-taken brace, young Davinder Singh put in a solid shift at right back in India’s 3-1 win.

Over a year ago or so, putting on the India jersey at the SAFF (South Asian Football Federation) Championship would have been unfathomable for the two players. 

In March last year, Manvir scored the winning goal for West Bengal in the Santosh Trophy final against Goa. A product of the Minerva Punjab academy, Manvir’s 119th-minute added time goal had helped Bengal capture their 32nd title. Bengal had then become his adopted home after he signed for Mohammedan Sporting in 2016.

Meanwhile, Davinder was turning out for Punjab University in the Inter-Varsity Championship. The All India Football Federation (AIFF) organised a scouting camp in Mumbai, led by Director of National Teams Abhishek Yadav, for picking players for the India U23 team, in which Davinder and Manvir caught the eye of the scouts. 

Subsequently, both the players were called up to India’s U23 squad for the AFC (Asian Football Federation) U23 Championship qualifiers. India might not have booked their ticket to AFC U23 Championship’s main event but Manvir and Davinder did enough to impress coach Stephen Constantine. Both the players had caught the eye in India’s win over Turkmenistan with Manvir even bagging a goal for himself.

Soon, the Englishman was calling up both the youngsters to the senior national team’s camp ahead of the Tri-Nations Cup in Mumbai also involving Mauritius and St. Kitts and Nevis. In doing so, Davinder had become only the third player after Abhishek Yadav and Eugeneson Lyngdoh to be fast-tracked from the University level to the senior Indian team.

While Davinder was unfortunate to not make the final cut for the tournament, Manvir garnered a couple of substitute appearances in the games against Mauritius and St. Kitts and Nevis.

By then, both the players had bagged themselves maiden contracts in the Indian Super League. Manvir was snapped up by FC Goa while Davinder was signed by Mumbai City FC for the fourth edition of the ISL.

Despite their young ages, both the Punjab-born players notched up plenty of minutes for their respective ISL teams. Davinder made a total of 14 appearances for Alexandre Guimaraes’ Mumbai while Manvir made nine for Sergio Lobera’s Goa although most of them came from the bench.

Even though the pair might not have featured heavily for their ISL teams, the strides both players have made in the past year or so is astounding to say the least.

The improvement in their general gameplay has also been clear to see in the SAFF Championship and it is no wonder that the pair continue to be on Constantine’s good books.

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Davinder has always been a robust defender with an imposing physical presence and his game and positional awareness has come on leaps and bounds. Manvir, meanwhile, seems to have really prospered under Lobera’s attacking philosophy and his off-the-ball movement and link-up play has been a joy to watch at times in the SAFF Championship.

Come Saturday, both the players could be lining up once again for the Blue Tigers in their summit clash against the Maldives. Come what may in the final at Dhaka, both the youngsters can depart the stadium with their heads held high due to how far they have come in a short span of time.

If they continue with the same rate of progression, then sky is the limit for both Manvir and Davinder.

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AFC Asian Cup 2019: Not scheduling any friendly matches in September a baffling move for India – football news

Even as Stephen Constantine and his India U23s were preparing for their SAFF (South Asian Football Federation) Cup semi-final with Pakistan, two of their rivals in Group A of the AFC (Asian Football Confederation) Asian Cup were busy playing international friendly matches.

UAE were putting three past Laos at Palamos, Spain while Bahrain were being held to a goalless draw against China at Riffa. Both teams were playing their second friendly in the September international window. UAE had previously gone down 0-2 to Trinidad and Tobago while Bahrain had played out a 1-1 draw against the Philippines.

Thailand and India are the only two teams from Group A of the Asian Cup who will not be in action in the September window. Thailand, though, will be in action at the year-end AFF (ASEAN Football Federation Cup) where they will lock horns with the likes of Philippines and Indonesia among other teams.

Seeing India’s rivals sharpen their tools for the continental showdown in the best possible fashion begs the question as to why the Blue Tigers are not playing any international friendly matches in the September window.

While India’s direct rivals and other Asian Cup participants have been squaring up against quality oppositions, the Blue Tigers’ U23 team are only participating in the SAFF Championship. 

While a large majority of the 24 Asian Cup participants have been in action in recent times, even teams who have failed to qualify such as Singapore, Laos, Indonesia, Malaysia and Cambodia have been racking up the international friendly matches.

A lack of available quality opponents has been cited as an excuse for India not playing friendly matches but seeing the teams on display in the September window proves that it is a lame one.

Granted that India had the SAFF Cup commitments to fulfill but it was the U23 team for the tournament anyway. Logistically, it is very much possible for India to field its U23s in the Bangladesh tournament while its senior team takes on other opposition in friendly matches. And there are no domestic commitment for the players to fulfill currently as well.

While the U23s playing in the SAFF Cup serves as an opportunity for some of them to catch the eye of the coach, there is no excuse for the senior team giving up the chance to play crucial games. At the present, the senior team needs to be taking every opportunity available to them to prepare for a competition which they have qualified for after a gap of eight years.

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As such, with the September window now lost, the Indian team has been robbed of some crucial match practice against oppositions whose style of play could prepare them better for the Asian Cup.

Only the powers to be know the reasoning behind this approach but one hopes that the lack of friendly matches does not come back to bite India hard in the UAE. India have broken into the top-100 in FIFA rankings but are still not utilising all the international breaks available, which is a shame. 


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SAFF Championship 2018 Semis – India beat Pakistan to enter final – football news

Stephen Constantine’ Indian U23 team defeated Pakistan 3-1 in the second semi-final of the 2018 SAFF Championship at the Bangabandhu Stadium in Dhaka, Bangladesh on Wednesday.

Manvir Singh (48′ and 69′) scored a brace while birthday boy Sumeet Passi (84′) added in another before the game was reduced to ten-a-side. Hassan Bashir (88′) got a late consolation but India sealed entry to a record eleventh final of the regional tournament.

More to follow…

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