Upon reaching Singapore during my trip to Hangzhou, I saw a familiar face at the airport lounge. It was Indian football team captain Sunil Chhetri. He was immersed in a book, totally oblivious of his surroundings. His teammates, including senior defender Sandesh Jhingan and Malayali players K P Rahul and Abdul Rabeeh, were seen next to him. Like sitting anxiously in the dugout as substitutes, they had been waiting there for more than nine hours for the connecting flight to Hangzhou.
The long wait at the airport meant the team will have no training before the opening match against China later this evening (5 pm IST). The disappointment was writ large on their faces.
The Blue Tigers will be playing their opening match in the Asian Games without any training session and proper rest after the last-minute announcement of the squad. Following an unprecedented controversy surrounding the picking of the team, the team management could only secure tickets on a flight leaving Delhi in the early hours of Monday. Although the flight reached Singapore around 7 am local time, the players had to wait at the airport for around nine hours for the connecting flight to Hangzhou. After a long and exhausting journey, they finally landed in Hangzhou around 10 pm.
Besides China and India, the other two teams in Group A are Bangladesh and Myanmar. Both China and Bangladesh have been training at the Games venue for the last two days.
It is certain that the revamped Indian team will struggle to gel together. Moreover, the coach will have a tough time picking the final XI from the 21-member squad as most of them have never played together. As they did not get enough time to bond with each other, they seemed reluctant to interact and mingle with others. While senior players like Chhetri and Jhingan were seen together, others whiled away the hours talking to their Indian Super League teammates or their state-mates.
When asked about the chaotic situation, Chhetri smiled wryly but minced no words in stating his opinion. "Regardless of the importance of the match, this team is representing India. We need to be a bit more serious in handling situations like this," he said.