Jeje Lalpeklua Image Credit: Supplied

Sharjah

Two of the mainstays of Indian football have urged fellow players to look ahead despite ending their campaign at the 2019 AFC Asian Cup on a disappointing note.

Hosts UAE, Thailand and Bahrain eased through to the Round of 16 while India bowed out after ending bottom of Group A with three points. The Blue Tigers began well with a 4-0 thrashing of Thailand, before caving in to 0-2 and 0-1 losses to the hosts and Bahrain. “I felt like crying in the last few minutes because it was a soft penalty we gave. I don’t think it was a penalty. Right now we can’t help anything. We had worked very hard since day one to qualify for this Asian Cup. I have nothing much to say right now,” Jeje said.

However, striker Jeje — who plays in the Indian Super League (ISL) for Chennaiyin FC — was hopeful of the future. “We now need to keep the consistency and continue for the future,” the striker who celebrated his 28th birthday last week told media.

“I hope we can continue in this same way. I feel confident we are here to stay. I mean any of the other teams [in Asia] should now look at India as a genuine opposition. We are going to be difficult to play against. And if at all, I would love to take something from this tournament then it is the sense of self-belief that we will return to this stage, no matter how. We will ensure we return soon to this stage,” he added.

India’s next international assignment would be the start of the qualifying matches in September for the 2022 Fifa World Cup in Qatar. “We need to forget these results now. We are ready for the next challenge before us. And if we continue playing at this level, then I think even a place in the next World Cup is possible,” Jeje stressed.

Jeje reasoned that for India to improve they need to play against higher-ranked teams on a regular basis. “This squad is young and we have the potential. But we need to keep playing the big teams like China and the UAE. We need to play more friendlies like this and keep on improving,” he added.

Echoing similar thoughts was Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, the towering 6.43ft goalkeeper who plays for JSW Bengaluru in the ISL. “There is no need to beat ourselves with these results. We were up against the best teams on the Asian stage and there was going to be no easy match for any team. We have made a statement and now it is time for us to reflect and learn so that we can become wiser for the challenges ahead,” Sandhu said.

“The best thing we can do as a team is to leave out the negative elements and look ahead with purpose towards the future,” he added.