India takes part in the AFC Asian Cup tournament set to kick off on Jan 5th in the UAE.
The tournament will play throughout the month and conclude on Feb 1st.
India will enter the contest in Group A as heavy underdogs. The group also comprises of the home team United Arab Emirates, Thailand and Bahrain.
The 23-man squad that India is sending to the tournament consists largely of the usual suspects – names like Sunil Chhetri, Jeje Lalpekhlua, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and Sandesh Jhingan to name a few.
Coach: Stephen Constantine
Captain: Sunil Chhetri
Best performance at Asian Cup: Runners-up (1964)
Last time out in 2015: Did not qualify
January 6: Thailand vs India (Al Nahyan Stadium, Abu Dhabi – 5:30pm local time)
January 10: India v UAE (Zayed Sports City Stadium, Abu Dhabi – 8pm local time)
January 14: India vs Bahrain (Sharjah Stadium, Sharjah – 8pm local time)
THE KEY PLAYER – SUNIL CHHETRI
India’s captain Sunil Chhetri still remains the nation’s most important and inspirational player at the club and international stage. The 34-year-old striker has 65 international goals from 103 appearances for India and is the second highest active international goalscorer — only behind Cristiano Ronaldo who has 85 goals to his name.
With his career almost reaching its twilight, the India captain will very well know that this will be his final opportunity to do something in a major tournament and will be determined to sign off with a spirited performance — and taking India to an unlikely second round of the Asian Cup 2019 will see his star rise even higher.
Sunil has five goals and an assist for his Indian Super League (ISL) side Bengaluru FC this season and if the captain can bring his instinctive finishing to Asia’s grandest stage, India might just be dreaming about life beyond the group stages.
THE YOUNG STAR – ASHIQUE KURUNIYAN
The 21-year-old Kerala forward is one of the rising stars of Indian football and is part of Constantine’s 23-man final squad at the Asian Cup 2019.
The FC Pune City winger, who went on trials with Spanish club Villarreal CF a couple of seasons ago, has gone from strength to strength since making his ISL debut last year.
If the match demands some pace up front, it is Ashique who Constantine can turn to — thanks to his quick feet and ability to take on defenders. The youngster is not afraid of having a go at goal either and he could be the super sub that India might need at the big tournament this January.
In their last appearance in the Asian Games in 2011, India had lost 4-0 to Australia, 5-2 to Bahrain and 4-1 to South Korea. However, this time around, one could say that the draw has been kind to them as they are drawn with hosts United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Thailand in Group A.
India’s fortunes in the 17th edition of the tournament will very much depend on their opening match in which they will play ASEAN powerhouse Thailand in Abu Dhabi on January 6. If the Blue Tigers can somehow nick a win against the War Elephants, that would become the perfect springboard for the South Asians to maybe make it to the knockout stages.
One wouldn’t bet them to topple either of UAE or Bahrain, but a goalless draw with Asian giants China in an October friendly in Jiangsu proves that Constantine’s men can at times spring a surprise or two.