The 25-year-old was among the best individual performers in the recently concluded Qualifiers.

With under a year to go for the AFC Asian Cup, scheduled to begin in June 2023, Indian football team players have their sights set to utilise the upcoming season in making their case for the final squad. Winger Ashique Kuruniyan believes the extended nine-month Indian football calendar from 2022-23 onwards will be useful for players aiming to feature in the Asian Cup.

“The longer season will help a lot because we as players need games. When you hear you have the Durand Cup and the Super Cup apart from the Indian Super League, you get around 30 matches to play in the season which will only be beneficial for players,” said Ashique, who plays his club football for Bengaluru FC.

The domestic club season starts in August with three major competitions for players to take part in. Apart from the ISL, the two major cup competitions – Durand Cup and Super Cup also feature in the calendar from this season onwards. Meanwhile, there will be two opportunities – September 2022 and March 2023 in the FIFA international windows, for the national team to play friendlies in preparation for the Asian Cup.

India qualified for back-to-back Asian Cups for the first time in history as they emerged as group winners in the third round of qualifiers, held in Kolkata earlier this week. Ashique had provided the assist for Sahal Abdul Samad’s injury-time goal in the 2-1 win over Afghanistan in the second match of the campaign.

“It is really satisfying to top the group and qualify for the Asian Cup. Everyone in the national team setup gave it their all. The support from the fans in Kolkata made it more special, they were amazing,” commented the Kerala-born winger.

Ashique Kuruniyan, who made his national team debut in 2018 in the Intercontinental Cup against Chinese Taipei, started all three group stage games in the 2019 Asian Cup playing as a striker.

However, the 25-year-old feels that featuring in the 2023 edition will be sweeter having played a significant role in the qualifying as opposed to his first tryst with the Asian Cup, where he was only 21 years old.

“Last time in the Asian Cup, I had come into the team for a major international tournament directly without featuring in the qualifying stages. I had benefited from the efforts of all the players involved in the qualifying stages. This time, I was here to play my part to see the country through to the Asian Cup in qualifying. This is a brilliant step-up for football in the country,” Ashique signed off.

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