India will be difficult to beat: Chhetri

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 03 Jan 2019 12:46:30



INDIA will be a difficult team to beat in the Asian Cup football tournament starting Saturday, especially after their recent draws against more fancied China and Oman, said talismanic captain Sunil Chhetri.  The Asian Cup, the continent’s showpiece event, will be played in four cities of the United Arab Emirates from January 5 to February 1.  India have been clubbed in Group A along side Thailand, Bahrain and hosts UAE. They play their first match on Sunday against Thailand here, followed by games against UAE (Abu Dhabi) and Bahrain (Sharjah) on January 10 and 14 respectively.

Ranked 15th in Asia, India played against three quality sides — China, Oman and Jordan — in their build-up to the Asian Cup. The Stephen Constantine-coached side drew goal-less against China and Oman and lost to Jordan 1-2.
China (76th) and Oman (82nd) are ranked higher than India (97th) while Jordan are below a few rungs down at 109th. “I can assure you that it won’t be an easy job for other teams to face us. We are a team who hate to lose, and we have proven it in recent times. We are working as per the plan,” Chhetri was quoted as saying by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) website.

“All of us are super excited and thrilled right now. Apart from me and Gurpreet (Singh Sandhu), it’s a first-time experience for all else. Everyone is ready to grab this opportunity (of playing in the Asian Cup),” said the skipper, who is set to become the only Indian to feature in two Asian Cup tournaments.
The 34-year-old Chhetri was part of the Indian team that featured in the 2011 edition in Doha where the country lost all their group matches — against Australia, South Korea and Bahrain. Goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu was in the 2011 squad but did not play any match.

Chhetri, the highest Indian scorer in international football with 65 goals, said his team was focusing solely on the match against Thailand and not looking beyond that.
“At the moment, our sole focus is on our opening fixture — the game against Thailand. We are not looking anything beyond that. Yeah, there are matches against UAE and Bahrain lined up but we will think about them only when they come.

“At the moment we know that Thailand will be a very tough opponent and we are concentrating only on them,” he said.
Chhetri is set to equal former captain Bhaichung Bhutia’s record of all time India appearances during the Asia Cup. He has played 104 international matches so far, only three shy of his ‘mentor’ Bhutia’s record of 107 games.
But, Chhetri said he had never played for records.
“It feels good when I get a record under my name. But I don’t keep track of records. After 10 seconds, I just forget it. I never take any pressure of chasing any record,” he said.

“I never ever dreamt that I would play more than 100 games for India or score 60-odd goals,” Chhetri said.
Talking about Bhutia, Chhetri said, “I have always been a big fan of Bhaichung bhai. Tell me who isn’t? I have learnt so many things from him. He has always been a huge support.”

Boyle blow for Socceroos
DEFENDING Asian Cup champions Australia were dealt a blow Wednesday with Hibernian striker Martin Boyle ruled of action for “an indefinite period” with a knee injury.
The Scottish-born attacker was shaping as a key member of the team after scoring two goals in three appearances since switching allegiances to Australia in November. But he picked up a knock in their 5-0 rout of Oman in a warm-up game on Sunday and will miss the tournament.
“We sent Martin for a scan yesterday and the outcome of that assessment is that he will be out of action for an indefinite period,” said Australia coach Graham Arnold.

South Korea counting on red-hot Son to shine
SOUTH Korea are hoping Son Heung-min’s dazzling pace and goals can help them end a 59-year wait to be crowned continental kings.
The 2015 runners-up have put their stamp on the international scene in recent times, stunning holders Germany at last year’s World Cup before winning the Asian Games football tournament in September.

Son, 26, was at the heart of both successes and his delight was plain to see at the Asian Games in Indonesia, where victory earned the team an exemption from South Korea’s compulsory, 21-month military service.
The Tottenham Hotspur forward, who has a deadly shot with either foot, has been in scorching form for his club, scoring seven goals in his last seven Premier League games.