With Coach Stephen Constantine’s earlier hints about rotating captains throughout India’s campaign at the AFC Asian Cup 2019, all eyes will be on goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh as India take on Thailand later today in their first game.
It is also noteworthy that India will be fielding the third youngest team overall in the tournament- the average age being a little over 24 years. While this has led to many critics questioning the apparent inexperience that the squad brings into this all important tournaments, Constantine has in recent press conferences alluded to this being a positive thing. “We are a very young side, I think the second youngest side (third youngest) in the Asian Cup and I am sure we will give everything on the pitch,” the British coach said. In fact, only two Indian strikers have 30 or more caps- Sunil Chhetri and Jeje Lalpekhlua.
With a view to the future and a possible qualification for the Indian football team at the FIFA Olympics now seeming a distant possibility, maybe the next generation of players having a chance to showcase their skills on this stage is just what is right for Indian football. There is a good deal of expectations riding on India’s Asian Cup campaign but a bigger reminder is the fact that the 2026 FIFA World Cup has been expanded to accommodate 48 participating teams. Maybe, now is the right time to start setting realistic targets and working towards the same for the steady rise of India’s global position in the sport.
This will be India’s fourth outing in the tournament. The country made its tournament debut in the 1964 edition where they finished runners-up to Israel. 1984 and 2011 saw them exit the tournament in the group stages itself. This year, the team has been drawn in Group A alongside UAE (the hosts), Thailand and Bahrain.
India are currently ranked 97th in the world, the highest in 22 years and 15th in the AFC. This is how they match up against first opponents Thailand.
In addition to the young players to watch out for, the experience of the veterans will be important as well. Below are Sunil Chhetri’s numbers in contrast with Thailand’s most influential player, captain Teerasil Dangda.
In October 2018, India showed grit and determination to hold China to a goalless draw in an international friendly. The result was especially encouraging given that China is among the Top 8 teams in the AFC. They were also ranked 76th in the world at the time to India’s 97. Things may look upwards for India at the moment but the Thai are by no means opponents to take lightly.
A lot depends on the outcome of the game today.