India’s midfielder Anirudh Thapa (second from right) celebrates after scoring a goal against Thailand at the Al Nahyan Stadium in Abu Dhabi on Sunday. Image Credit: AFP

Abu Dhabi: The Blue Tigers are on the prowl and, having feasted on Thailand, they are eyeing their next kill. A hungry India pounced on their South East Asian counterparts in the second half to script a historic 4-1 triumph — their first in Asian Cup since 1964.

As billions of fans back home rejoiced this rare feat, this team GenNext led by mercurial striker Sunil Chhetri chose to be muted in the celebration.

It was all about getting back to the team hotel and off to bed as early as possible.

India team relax
India team relax in a pool at the team hotel in Abu Dhabi yesterday. Image Credit: AIFF

The opportunity has come after a long wait and they are well aware what impact this success can bring to the sport, on the whole, back home in India.

It’s still a job half done and hosts UAE now stand in their way for a place in the next round and this young brigade clearly wants to channelise their energy towards that match on Thursday.

67goals

Chhetri has scored for India to overtake Argentina’s Lionel Messi

The team started their day with a pool session for those who were in action against Thailand and the reserves were sent to the Shaikh Zayed Stadium cricket ground for training.

Definitely, the best of my career because Asian Cup is like World Cup for us. For a team like India it is like taking baby steps.

- Sunil Chhetri | Indian footballer

Coach Stephen Constantine made sure that the team doesn’t lower their guard as he is well aware that another two more points can etch a new path for an entire generation of footballers.

Chhetri, who scored a brace to surpass Argentine superstar Lionel Messi (65 goals) to become the second-highest international goal scorer among the active players, can’t wait to be out there against the UAE. He had taken a blow to his leg and was seen limping a bit but asserted nothing could stop him from being on the pitch.

1964

The year India last time had won a match in the Asian Cup

“Yes, I got a knock on the leg and I will have to check it but let me tell you if there is only one leg also, I want to play the game against UAE now,” he said, sporting a broad smile, adding that the success was the best result of his career.

“Definitely, the best of my career because Asian Cup is like World Cup for us. For a team like India it is like taking baby steps. I’m happy that we gave a good account of ourselves. No matter how many games we play here, we want to give account that we are improving,” said Chhetri.

“We know we need to take gradual jumps. All the players are aware that they have to keep performing well so that the country gets the hope. At the end of the day, it is all about the nation being hopeful and then we will get more quality players.”

Though India managed to go ahead with a contentious penalty, they were clearly all over the place but looked a completely different side after the switch which saw them pump in three more goals.

In the first half, we saw when we allowed them to pass they would do that for 180 minutes and you won’t even touch the ball. The message was to go there and be brave.

- Sunil Chhetri, Indian striker

“In the first half, we saw when we allowed them to pass they would do that for 180 minutes and you won’t even touch the ball. The message was to go there and be brave,” revealed Chhetri, adding, “Because if you want to press, you have to be brave as everyone comes up and you are vulnerable behind. Everyone took the challenge and went up. We pressed them and also getting the goals at the right time helped.”

Constantine asserted that the focus will be on trying to win all the matches, come what may.

“We will just try to win every game we play in. We have done well in the last couple of years and it’s a continuous process for me. We are not getting carried away. We have won a game and there are two games left and we want to qualify,” he asserted.

“We need at least another two points to qualify. We came here to qualify and I think we are no longer looking at India the way we were. You got a good look at what we are capable of. We are a young side, a fit side and we will run till the last minute,” he added.