India on verge of AFC Asian Cup qualification

Bengaluru: India will eye a win against Macau in order to virtually qualify for the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup 2019 here on Wednesday.

The 107th placed India have recorded a cent per cent win in the third round qualifiers, defeating lower ranked teams Kyrgyz Republic (128) and Myanmar (157) earlier by solitary goal margins before defeating Macau (182) 2-0 away and are full of confidence.

India are the top placed side in Group A with nine points from three matches. Kyrgyzstan and Myanmar, who played a 2-2 on Tuesday in Yangon, are second and third respectively. Both have four points each but Kyrgyzstan are ahead on goal difference.

“We can’t let the opportunity slip. We have to win tomorrow’s game and there’s no alternative from working harder and harder,” captain Sunil Chhetri said in the pre-match press conference before taking on Macau in the fourth match of the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 Qualifiers in Bengaluru on Wednesday.

“We are going through a good run but we can’t afford to take tomorrow’s game lightly. We have to get it going and make it count. We need three points,” Chhetri stated.

Coach Stephen Constantine also preferred to speak in the same tone referring to the match against Macau as a “crucial one”.

“We’re very close to qualifying for the AFC Asian Cup but we’re still not there. We can’t think about anything but getting a positive result. We respect every opponent and our philosophy won’t change against Macau too,” Constantine stated.

“We have refurbished the team. The average age of the national team is around 24. The World Cup qualification stage was a learning curve for us and now we’re just one breath away from the AFC Asian Cup. That’s what we have achieved and I believe we have built a team for the next 4-5 years at least,” he maintained.

In the away fixture, India had to toil really hard to breach the resilient Macau defence until Balwant Singh hit the target twice.

“We have worked on our strategies. Yes, we struggled there. We had to work hard to penetrate them. In no way we can take them lightly. We did work on our mistakes and I hope we’ll implement them on the pitch tomorrow,” Chettri said.

“The AFC Asian Cup is massive. It’s the biggest tournament which an Asian team can play. But, as gaffer said, it’s not done yet. In my playing career of 14 years, I have been in this situation before. We are taking the game with the same philosophy. Now our only focus is to qualify. Once we do, we will surely cherish the memory.”

Constantine said that all of his wards are fit and ready to give it a shot.