AIFF dreams of World Cup qualification
Ahead of India's participation in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, All India Football Federation (AIFF) President Praful Patel termed the country's fourth participation in the continental championship as a "precursor to India's goal to achieve a berth in the FIFA World Cup by 2026."
"You just always cannot live a dream and we have to make the Asian dream a reality. And with the form, the national team is in, and if Sunil Chhetri and everybody can pull their feet together, we can make it a reality," he added.
"We should always go for the maximum and we should try to win the tournament, let alone get out of the group stages. We are mentally and physically prepared. We wish the team all the very best and they have the full support of the AIFF," Patel stated.
"The whole nation should support the national team and should fully get behind them. It is imperative that the nation roots for them and as the tournament is in UAE, I hope we will get a lot of support there."
National team skipper Sunil Chhetri heaped praise on his teammates.
"The reasons that we have qualified for the AFC Asian Cup 2019 is because of players like Sandesh Jhingan, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Anirudh Thapa, Jeje and Udanta Singh and all others. It is because of these players that I go on the pitch without any pressure. They do all the hard work while I just tap the ball in," he said.
India has been drawn in Group A of the AFC Asian Cup 2019 along with hosts UAE, Thailand and Bahrain. They will play their first match against Thailand on January 6, followed by hosts UAE on January 10 and Bahrain on January 14.
"The Asian Cup is a massive tournament for India and everyone involved in the sport. We have three games from January 6-14 and I am focusing on them. We will take one game at a time and we have scouted Thailand intensively to the point that we have watched them 3-4 times for analysis," head coach Stephen Constantine said.
"We look forward to making India proud," Constantine added.
Meanwhile, Chhetri stated that "India will be looking to get no less than 3 points against Thailand."
"I was involved in the mock draw that happened for the Asian Cup and I was wondering what team we could draw. I knew whichever team that we drew, it would be difficult for us. But now, we are ready to face anyone. We are well prepared and looking forward to the challenge," Chhetri asserted.
Comparing India's current preparation to the one in 2011, Chhetri added: "In 2011, we were together for 6 months. But this time of the year, all the boys that have been selected are playing constantly in the Hero Indian Super League and the Hero I-League. Now we just have to come together as a single unit and give it our best shot when we get to UAE."
"I try my best to motivate the team like players Rennedy Singh, Abhishek Yadav, Surkumar and Bhaichung Bhutia did in 2011. I believe that actions speak louder than words and we have come to a time where one player pushes the other to excel."
The 28-member national squad will leave the Indian shores for preparation in Abu Dhabi on December 20, with the final 23-member list slated to be announced on December 26. During their preparations for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, India will play an international friendly against Oman on December 27.
Constantine admitted that the team has "enough time to acclimatize."
"We have tried our best to prepare in the best possible fashion. We wanted to play big teams and strong teams like we did against China and Jordan. We next play Oman on December 27. We have got the right amount of competition to build us and are ready," he said.
Meanwhile, Nishu Kumar and Jerry Lalrinzuala have been released from the national camp.
(With inputs from agencies.)
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