The Blue Tigers are in a tough group in the tournament alongside the likes of United Arab Emirates, Thailand and Bahrain.
The hopes of an entire nation rest on India heading into the AFC Asian Cup. The Blue Tigers have been placed in a relatively tough group including hosts United Arab Emirates (UAE) and heavyweights Thailand and Bahrain. These nations are all filled with excellent players, who not only have the experience of playing on such a big stage, but make a big impact as well. UAE, the hosts, have arguably the strongest squad in the group packed with some dangerous players.
Thailand also boast of some impressive individuals who could turn around games on their own, while Bahrain’s attacking players are a force to be reckoned with as well. With the tournament less than a fortnight away, we have a look at five players the Indian team need to watch out for.
5. Ahmed Khalil (UAE)
Khalil won the AFC Player of the Year award in 2015
Ahmed Khalil has become the UAE’s go-to-man in attack over the years and the core element of their attacking threat. Khalil has made 97 senior appearances for The Whites over the course of a decade, scoring 49 goal. He’s got the chance to make history in the Asian Cup, reaching 50 goals and 100 appearances for his nation. Khalil’s a clinical striker whose experience on big occasions and home-field advantage will work in his favour.
He scored three goals in the tournament in 2015, with Khalil’s predatorial instinct in front of goal, dangerous movement and clever nature are guaranteed to trouble opposition. He will be the man to contain for India, who need to be wary of his threat in the final third and keep a stern eye on.
4. Jamal Rashid (Bahrain)
Rashid is one of the most potent attacking threats of Bahrain
Bahrain have formed an amazing attacking system under coach Miroslav Soukup and Jamal Rashid’s been the man whose flourished the most in it. The intelligent left winger has been the centrepiece of Bahrain’s attack under Soukup, moving forward with great vigour and being at the core of their attacking moves. He’s scored around four goals in the last three appearances for the Al-Ahmar, gaining momentum at the right moment.
Rashid’s heading into the Asian Cup high on confidence and his pace as well as goalscoring ability will definitely threaten India. The Blue Tigers will need to put on a strong defensive show to thwart him, as Rashid looks like he’ll make a big impact in the tournament.
3. Teerasil Dangda (Thailand)
Watch: Dangda has scored 42 goals for Thailand over the years
Teerasil Dangda’s the most experienced candidate for Thailand heading into the Asian Cup and is arguably their most dangerous striking option as well. Dangda has made 95 appearances for the War Elephants over the years, scoring 42 goals. Having the ability to operate as a forward or a winger, the intelligent, pacy man has maintained his hunger for goals superbly.
He’ll want to continue his terrific goalscoring prowess in the tournament and can be a thorn in the side of everyone, including India. Dangda has the ability to give India and Co. nightmares with his movement upfront and will be the striker to keep a close eye on.
2. Ismail Matar (UAE)
Watch: Matar is the captain of the United Arab Emirates
The UAE captain will probably be playing his final competitive tournament for his nation, but will want to ride into the sunset in victory. Matar has been playing for the Whites for over 15 years now, having made 125 appearances and scored 36 goals. The UAE skipper might not be the tallest, yet his sheer persistence at creating chaos in the final third works in his favour.
Matar’s experience will play a big part in the UAE’s campaign and he’ll look to use that to score some more clever goals. India cannot underestimate the 35-year-old’s threat, as he’ll need be nullified completely if the Blue Tigers hope to get any kind of result against the hosts.
1. Chanathip Songkrasin (Thailand)
Watch: Songkrasin is fondly called the Lionel Messi of Thailand
Chanthip Songkrasin is heading into the Asian Cup beaming with confidence. Not only has he been an influential outlet for his national side, but his terrific performances in the recently concluded J-League also proved how good he is. Songkrasin was voted as Consadole Sapporo’s Most Valuable Player earlier this month, due to his role in guiding them to a fourth-place finish in the league.
He’s maintained admirable consistency on the national scene, making 46 appearances and scoring around six goals. More than his goalscoring ability, Songkrasin’s creativity and ability to light up moves makes him dangerous. He can churn up chances out of nothing and Songkrasin’s unpredictability is the reason why India need to be particularly wary of his threat next month.