The Blue Tigers kick-off their campaign against Group A opponents Thailand on 6th January.
The 2019 AFC Asian Cup beckons us all!!
For all the Blue Pilgrims, the upcoming tournament is a litmus test as to how Indian football has developed over the years since our previous appearance in the 2011 edition. Under Bob Houghton, the Blue Tigers were a different outfit consisting of the likes of Bhaichung Bhutia, Renedy Singh, Subrata Pal and others, with Sunil Chhetri the only remaining entity from that time. But this time, India could put in a different performance, although pitted against the likes of UAE, Bahrain, and Thailand.
Trusted under the guidance of much-travelled Stephen Constantine, the team has evolved, with many youngsters coming in and some experienced players being given the mantle alongside Chhetri. The tournament is not new ground for the Indian team, with the country having qualified for 1964, 1984, and 2011 editions. Ahead of the upcoming competition, the Englishman seems to be pretty confident about his squad as displayed in numerous interviews with the media.
Watch: All you need to know about the Indian football team
It is worth mentioning that India finished as runners-up in their competition debut, with striker Inder Singh finished as the joint top scorer with two goals. Coming in as winners of the West Zone, India were pretty dominant in that edition, with impressive wins against South Korea and Hong Kong. Their loss was against eventual winners Israel.
Well who knows, this time too, India could put in a good performance!
In an interview with AFC, the national team gaffer expressed that it is a privilege to be amongst the elite of Asian football. The lack of practice matches is a sense of concern in the Englishman’s mind, but he also knows that players go in fit and without any injuries. Although the injured Nishu Kumar could be missed. The former Rwanda coach told AFC, “We started to prepare for this as soon as we had qualified mathematically from the group which we won. Of course, I would have liked a few games going into the tournament but on the plus side, we are fit and have no injuries so we are looking forward to the challenges ahead.”
When asked about how different the team is to how it was in 2011, Constantine quipped, “I think there is a huge difference in terms of how we prepared back then. We are now using sports science which has been very instrumental in how we prepare and that we are able to keep our players in good shape on and off the field. Although we have not had the six-month-camp the boys had in 2011, the current batch has been playing in a competitive league and of course that breeds competition amongst the players.”
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The preparations for any tournament has changed over the years for India
According to him, the team had quality in 2011, but the new holistic approach is helping the Blue Tigers in their bid to be considered a Asian heavyweight once again. He quipped, “we are able to use the GPS systems to ensure that the loads we give players are manageable and we are able to monitor players who have the usual niggles and separate them from the others, put them on different programmes and so on.”
With the AIFF pretty serious on promoting Indian football, and to make it successful, technology has been used to the team’s benefit, with the likes of video analysis.
This time India are a much better outfit due to the improved concentration on youth football and coach education. The Englishman has always affirmed his faith in better coaches, which means the production of better players. “We need to be producing players all over India as there is no doubt we have the talent but we need to be starting earlier,” he stated.
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Led by skipper Sunil Chhetri, the squad will be aiming to spring surprises against their highly-rated opponents
The Blue Tigers have a tough draw in the group stage, but hard work always reaps success. When asked by AFC about his thoughts on the group, the gaffer said, “any group we were drawn in was going to be tough but we are here by merit the players and staff have worked extremely hard and all deserve to be here. We will give a good account of ourselves and make India proud, and as we always do take one game at a time.”
India begin their campaign against Group A opponents Thailand on 6th January, followed by UAE on 10th, and finally Bahrain on 14th. Progression to the knockout stages will depend on the results of these group fixtures.