The Blue Tigers will be facing Thailand on 6th January 2019, followed by UAE, and Bahrain.
The AFC Asian Cup beckons us all and the Indian national team look more than ready with their new Six5Six kit ahead of the upcoming competition.
India skipper Sunil Chhetri, head coach Stephen Constantine and AIFF President Praful Patel met the media for the official launch of the new skin and also to discuss the much-awaited tournament.
Famous anchor and commentator Anant Tyagi kicked-off the media interaction by inviting Rowllin Borges, Subhasish Bose, Pritam Kotal, Sunil Chhetri, Jeje Lalpekhlua, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and Sandesh Jhingan to reveal the jersey to the public in a cinematic manner. After the unveiling, Constantine, Chhetri and Patel were invited on stage for a brief question and answer session.
In the tournament, there will be lots of heavyweights including the likes of Iran, Oman and China. When asked about the Blue Tigers’ preparations for the competition, the former Rwanda head coach stated, “Tomorrow we leave India for Abu Dhabi. We will play a few games. I think the preparation is fine, but I still feel we needed a few more games.”
“Carlos Queiroz (Iran manager) also called me and asked if India could play a friendly on 30th of this month, but we couldn’t because it clashes with one of our friendly matches. We have played big teams like China and Jordan and these are the teams we like to play.”
Bengaluru-man Chhetri quipped, “I was there for the draw and while pondering on it, I realized that all the teams are difficult. I was happier that we qualified and we are ready for any teams we face. We face Bahrain, Thailand, and the UAE and all three of them are difficult. But, I think that we are all well-prepared.”
The last time India played in the AFC Asian Cup, was in 2011. Back then, the players were different and so was the national setup. When asked about how different it is now to the preparation in 2011 the striker replied, “In 2011, the team was together for six months. This time, the boys have been at their clubs getting valuable game-time, playing in the ISL and I-League. I think the preparation is exactly how the coach wants and I think the boys are ready and well-prepared. We also don’t have injuries except for Nishu Kumar. Everyone else is fit, that’s a good thing.”
In 2011, Bhaichung Bhutia led the Indian team, with Chhetri also being an important part of the squad. When asked how would he lead the team this time, the national skipper said, “Obviously, I won’t be able to do like Bhaichung. There were other impressive senior players like Renedy Singh too. There were many. Whatever I have learned from them, I try to do the same thing. I think it’s important to lead by actions rather than by speaking. I try to be on time and also try to be punctual. We push each other.”
Earlier, AIFF head honcho Patel had stated that India’s main aim is to qualify for the 2026 FIFA World Cup. When asked how playing in the Asian Cup would help India’s objective, Patel quipped, “We should never aim for the minimum. We should always aim for the maximum. Why just the group stages, we should aim for further. The team has the full support of the AIFF and I hope every one of us supports the team with full spirits and morale.”
One of the concerns for fans has been midfielder Borges. The NorthEast United star has been spectacular this season in the ISL, but there are concerns that he has fallen down in Constantine’s pecking order. On this, the Englishman said, “Well, at the moment, Borges is one of the 28 players. We are going to Abu Dhabi. Players will fight to be in the 23. Then they will fight to be in the starting XI. Then they will have to fight more to remain in the starting XI.”
According to Chhetri, there were a lot of star players during Bhaichung Bhutia’s time as India skipper. When asked if he is the only star player currently in the team, the captain said, “There are other huge stars too, like Jhingan, Thapa, Jeje, Gurpreet and others. The team is filled with huge stars, who are bigger than me in every way. They do more than me. I just score the goals.”
The Blue Tigers will be kicking-off their AFC Asian Cup campaign against Thailand on 6th January 2019. After the encounter against the Thais, India will face UAE on 10th January and then finally Bahrain on the 14th. India’s progression to the knockout stages will be decided on the basis of these group fixtures.