Abu Dhabi: Sunil Chhetri & Co’s moment of truth in the Asian Cup starts with India’s Group A fixture against Thailand at the Al Nahyan Stadium on Sunday. The action starts at 5.30pm.
Thailand, much like India, are also seeing a similar transition like their counterparts and they will be keen to make their presence felt straight away.
More so, as tough contests lay ahead in the group that also comprises of hosts and formidable outfits UAE and Bahrain.
Either side will be aware that any slip-up and it will be a telling blow to their dreams of progressing from the group.
India come into the contest at the back of playing three warm-up matches and their British coach Stephen Constantine would be pretty pleased with it. The Blue Tigers drew goalless against China and Oman and lost to Jordan 2-1.
This is Constantine’s second stint with the Indian team and his contract is also up for renewal soon after this tournament. He too will have plenty to prove this time round.
However, the Briton brushed aside that he or the team was under any sort of pressure going into the clash.
“I don’t think we are under any pressure, but obviously the pressure we have is to win that is there every time we play for India,” he said.
“It is a big event but we have a young side. I think we are the second youngest team in the Asian Cup and this is the youngest team in the history of Indian football. I think the future is bright and we are trying to qualify from the group. I can assure you we do everything possible on the pitch,” added Constantine, who will continue to follow a rotation policy as far as captaincy is concerned and goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu will be leading the team in the first outing.
Speaking about the team’s chances in the opener, Sandhu said that the players are ready and feeling really motivated ahead of the outing.
“Playing for the country is always special. We have worked really hard to be here. We will try to put the best show possible and try to be a difficult team against whoever we play against. We have been doing the work and will make sure that the job that we have done will not go in vain,” said Sandhu, who was in the squad that played in the 2011 Asian Cup.
On that occasion, India’s campaign had ended in shambles in Qatar as they lost all the three group matches — conceding 13 goals.
“The kind of football that we played back then was different and the kind of football that we play now is different. In 2011, there were players who were towards the later stage of their careers. This team is young and hungry to do well. I hope we don’t face as many challenges as we faced in 2011. As goalkeeper, I would like us to avoid such situations much further and show we are a strong team and we perform,” revealed Sandhu.
Constantine was of the view that ‘mentality’ of the team has changed from the time he took over as the coach of India four years ago.
“When I arrived, it was like we will go and play the game and let’s not lose by too many goals but that has changed. Now, we don’t go into a game thinking that we will lose. That’s the biggest change I think from the mentality point of view. The work rate has increased and the boys are putting phenomenal effort into games and training. The unity of the team and work-rate is why we are here,” said the 56-year-old, who rated Thailand as a very technical side with some good players.