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Indian football teams to leave for Hangzhou on Sunday night, confirms chef de mission Bajwa

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Indian Football Captain Sunil Chhetri. (File Photo: PTI)

New Delhi: The Indian men's and women's football teams will fly out to Hangzhou on Sunday night for the Asian Games, quelling speculation about some logistical issues with regards to the flight tickets.

Bhupender Singh Bajwa, the Indian chef de mission for the Asian Games, told PTI on Saturday that the tickets had been "issued".

The Asian Games are scheduled to commence on September 23 but the football event will kick off from September 19.

"Both the teams are leaving for Hangzhou tomorrow night. Both the tickets have been issued just now (late on Saturday evening). One team is going by Cathay Pacific while the other will be departing by Singapore Airlines," said Bajwa.

Bajwa also said that his staff, including the deputy chefs de mission, had already reached Hangzhou, while he would be leaving after two days.

Earlier, an All India Football Federation (AIFF) official said that he was confident the teams would fly out on Sunday.

"There are a lot of logistics involved when contingents travel for multi-discipline sporting events and at times there can be some issues here and there. I'm not aware that the tickets have been booked but if the chef de mission is saying this, he would know better as he is the head of the Indian contingent," said the official.

The men's and women's football teams were cleared after the AIFF and the Indian men's side chief coach Igor Stimac pleaded with the sports ministry to give them an opportunity to compete at the Games despite both the sides not fulfilling the criteria laid down by the ministry.

The ministry took into consideration the Indian men's team's recent successes at home against some tough sides before agreeing to their participation in the quadrennial showpiece.

The Sunil Chhetri-led men's team received a huge boost before their departure for Hangzhou with senior defender Sandesh Jhingan joining the squad after the AIFF arrived at a consensus amid the club-versus-country conundrum.

Several Indian Super League (ISL) clubs had expressed reservations over release of their players for the Asian Games as they would then not have been available for the lucrative domestic league, whose start dates coincide with the continental extravaganza in Hangzhou.

Thirteen players from the original 22-member squad, which was announced last month, were not released by their respective ISL clubs. The players not released included Jhingan and first-choice goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu.

However, the AIFF was able to resolve the issue after hectic parleys.

Veteran striker Chhetri will spearhead the Indian challenge and besides his longtime teammate Jhingan, he will also now be able to avail the services of Chinglensana Singh and Lalchungnunga as AIFF added the duo in the squad.

Football competition in the Asian Games is an under-23 affair with three over-aged players permitted per team.

This will be Chhetri's third Asian Games, the first being the 2006 edition as a 22-year-old under English coach Bob Houghton. The team was led by Bhaichung Bhutia, who was included as one the over-aged players. PTI

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