The South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Championships begins in Kerala on Wednesday but on the eve of the tournament, hosts India are not even sure what their squad will be like. Coach Stephen Constantine managed a practice session with the squad at his disposal for the first time on Tuesday but his problems were compounded after Indian Super League (ISL) franchise FC Goa did not release two of their players, Romeo Fernandes and Mandar Rao Desai, for the tournament. The deadline for players to report for the national camp was December 21.
In a brief email to the the federation, FC Goa management said the duo was injured. However, the AIFF sees this as a breach of FIFA laws and have threatened to impose ‘extremely serious’ sanctions on the team if the players do not report to the camp immediately. AIFF general secretary Kushal Das said they might be forced to take tough action against Fernandes and Desai as well.
“We have had enough of clubs not releasing players for the national team. It is becoming a very concerning trend and has to be dealt with. If the players are not sent to the team base immediately, the club will face severe sanctions,” Das said. “Unfortunately, in these situations, we will be forced to act against the players too. But not reporting for an international tournament despite being named in the squad is shameful.”
The tournament would have been a perfect opportunity for Fernandes and Desai to stake a claim for a regular position in the squad. Both are wingers and had a decent outing in the ISL, where they played an important role in Goa reaching the final. With Jackichand Singh falling out of favour and no player manning the other flank, the Goan duo could have staked claim for the next two World Cup qualifiers. “We were expecting them in the camp but they did not turn up,” Constantine said on Tuesday.
Interestingly, both players started the final for Goa against Chennaiyin on Sunday. Goa are already facing sanctions from the AIFF and ISL organisers after they boycotted the awards ceremony and hinted at match fixing. A Goa official said: “Both players picked up injuries and the doctor advised against travelling today (Tuesday). This was informed to the AIFF. From December 21 onwards, they are reporting to Dempo.”
What added to Constantine’s troubles was the unavailability of three other key players. Sandesh Jhingan, Seityasen Singh and Cavin Lobo were sent back home owing to injuries they picked up during the ISL. The combination of these two factors resulted in the coach delaying the announcement of his squad for the tournament.
On Tuesday, Constantine once again cut a sorry figure and assured the squad will be named later during the day but that wasn’t to be. The hosts will open their campaign against Sri Lanka on December 25 and the final squad has to be named a day before the match.
Constantine was unhappy with the situation he found himself in. “It’s always nice to play in your own country. But the irony is that we have not been able to have 11 vs 11 games prior to this morning despite having summoned a preparatory camp since December 10,” he said.
Meanwhile, all participating nations expressed displeasure over the poor organisation of the championship, primarily highlighting the problems faced with accommodation, travel and training ground.
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