The duo spoke extensively about the national team’s preparations ahead of the international friendly tournament in Mumbai.

It is not often that the Indian team plays two-three technically superior teams in a single tournament. But, with the AFC Asian Cup only a few months away, the Men in Blue have looked to pull their socks up. So, India will host Kenya, New Zealand and Chinese Taipei in the Intercontinental Cup from June 1-10 in Mumbai.

Ahead of the invitational tournament, the Blue Tigers are holding a preparatory camp in the metropolis, on the sidelines of which, national team regulars Sandesh Jhingan and Jeje Lalpekhlua met the media on Sunday and talked about the preparations for and the importance of the Intercontinental Cup.

India are to participate in the all-important Asian Cup where they will play tough teams in tougher conditions. The matches in the Intercontinental Cup are just some of the many games the hosts will play before the continental extravaganza. While talking about the importance of the tournament, Sandesh Jhingan said, “It is very important for us I think, from the preparation point of view.”

Take a look at India ace Sandesh Jhingan speaking ahead of the Intercontinental Cup

The Kerala Blasters’ defender added, “We need to play as many games as we can together as a team. Against teams like Kenya and New Zealand, they are not easy to beat. So, it’s good for us to face such teams. We will get to know our weaknesses. It’s something we all are looking forward to.”

Kenya and New Zealand are meant to be aggressive and very physical teams. So, when asked how India would approach these games Jhingan answered, “It’s I guess the first time India is playing against Kenya. They are a very different team with a different style of play. The kind of football they play in their continent is very different.”

Two of India’s opponents in the Asian Cup, Bahrain and UAE, are no less than Kenya and New Zealand in the physical aspect of the game. Sandesh had a view on the same as well. “It is going to be very physical and we know that very well,” he pointed out.

“It is going to be a good test because when we go to the UAE for the Asian Cup we are going to meet tough teams like Bahrain and the hosts. They are very physical teams. So, now if we get to play teams like Kenya and others, we will get to know our weakness, where we need to work on. We learn from the game and we get prepared for the Asian Cup.”

Lalpekhlua is one of the most senior players and will be needed to lead the young squad on the pitch. When asked how he will focus on that the striker said, “Sunil bhai is the seniormost player now. Not only one, but every one of the team is important for us, all the seniors and juniors. If we work individually, it won’t work. We need to train and do well as a team.”

Meanwhile, Jhingan is always a force to reckon with at set-pieces. He was hence asked if he has any personal goals set for scoring through set-pieces to which he answered, “As we all know how football has evolved, it’s important to contribute more than just by defending. But, if you ask me what my priority is between keeping a clean-sheet or scoring a goal, as a defender I would say keeping clean-sheets is more important. Of course, I want to contribute going forward as well. I would love to assist in as many goals as possible and score as well.”

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Kenya and New Zealand can be tough nuts to crack. The two teams would be putting utmost pressure on the Indians. Many players revel in such pressure situations while others struggle. On this Jhingan replied, “Personally, I enjoy games involving pressure. It brings the best out of a player.”

He also added, “You always want to play against teams that are better than yours, that keep you on your toes and bring the best out of you as a player. These games are friendlies, but they are important because we learn from them. We need to play against tough teams before the Asian Cup.”

Anas Edathodika and Jhingan have been playing together at the heart of the defence for quite some time now. With Edathodika joining Blasters, the fans could see the partnership continue in the club games as well. Anas in an interview said that he admires the way Sandesh plays and adores him.

When told of this Jhingan said, “I love playing with him. 10-12 years ago, when I used to play with my elder brothers, I used to get a very special feeling. Now, when I play with Anas, I get the same exact feelings. So it’s like he is a brother to me and I continue to learn from him. He has joined Kerala Blasters as well, lucky to play with him.”