India eye positive start to Asian Cup campaign

Abu Dhabi: India will hope for a positive start to what is expected to be a difficult campaign when they take on Thailand in their first match of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup here on Sunday.

Placed at the 97th spot in the FIFA rankings, India are 21 rungs above Thailand. But despite their lower ranking, the Thai players are overall technically and tactically better than their Indian counterparts and are expected to pose a tough challenge in the Group A match.

Hosts United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain, the other teams in Group A, will kick-off the tournament when they meet in the opening match at the Zayed Sports City Stadium here.

This will be India’s first appearance at Asian football’s showpiece event after the 2011 edition. This is India’s fourth participation in the AFC Asian Cup. India had finished second in the 1964 edition of the Asian Cup.

On the other hand, Thailand’s best result at the continental championship came in 1972 when they finished third. Since then, they have failed to overcome the group stage hurdle in all the five occasions they qualified for the final round.

A day prior to their opening match India coach Steven Constantine admitted that he “can’t wait for the match to begin.”

“The players are really looking forward to the opening match, and so am I. We can’t wait for the game to kick-off. It’s time for the show,” he said.

“We have a really young team. I wish they perform to their abilities. I’m sure we’ll do fine.”

Building up to the Continental Championship, Oman, who were held to a goalless draw by India, got the better of Thailand three days ago in an international friendly.

But Constantine brushed aside on being asked whether India will have a psychological advantage when they face Thailand.

“They are different teams with a different set of players. Oman were trying out different players, and so were Thailand,” he commented.

“Thailand are a very good side and they are not to be underestimated at all. We’re in no position to underestimate anybody. We have to take one game at a time. We’ll give everything we have as we have continued to do in the last four years. We’ll obviously do our best to get the result that we need,” he added.

Constantine asserted that guiding India to the Asian Cup is a proud moment for him.

Significantly, India had to traverse the longest path than anyone else to qualify to the quadrennial continental championship. India had played 18 matches, most by any team, to have cemented their berth in the Asian Cup.

“Personally, it’s a proud moment for me to lead India to the Asian Cup. It has been a long difficult road which took more than three years to get here. AIFF believed in me and allowed me to continue,” Constantine said.

“The 1-0 win against the Kyrgyz Republic at home was something special. Apart from that, beating Myanmar in Myanmar after 64 years was a great result for us. It was the opening game of the final qualifying round. The result gave us the confidence to go forward,” he added.