New Delhi, December 19: Ahead of the Indian National Team's participation in the AFC Asian Cup 2019 UAE, All India Football Federation President Praful Patel termed India's fourth participation in the AFC Asian Cup as a "precursor to India's goal to achieve a berth in the FIFA World Cup by 2026."
"The Asian dream needs to be achieved by 2026 as there will be 8 teams from Asia in the FIFA World Cup," Patel said at a press conference after the snazzy kit launch of the Blue Tigers in the Capital on Wednesday (December 19, 2018).
"You just always cannot live a dream and we have to make the Asian dream a reality. And with the form the national team is in, and if Sunil Chhetri and everybody can pull their feet together, we can make it a reality," he added.
The Indian National Team had earlier participated in the AFC Asian Cup in 1964, 1984 and 2011 editions of the AFC Asian Cup.
"We should always go for the maximum and we should try to win the tournament, let alone get out of the group stages," Mr. Patel stated. "We are mentally and physically prepared. We wish the team all the very best and they have the full support of the AIFF."
"The whole nation should support the national team and should fully get behind them. It is imperative that the nation roots for them and as the tournament is in UAE, I hope we will get a lot of support there."
India's top goal scorer in International Football Sunil Chhetri who has been instrumental for India thus far in his career lauded praise on his teammates.
"The reasons that we have qualified for the AFC Asian Cup 2019 is because players like Sandesh Jhingan, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Anirudh Thapa, Jeje and Udanta Singh and all others. It is because of these players that I go on the pitch without any pressure. They do all the hard work while I just tap the ball in," he mentioned to the applause of all.
India has been draw in Group A of the AFC Asian Cup 2019 along with hosts UAE, Thailand and Bahrain. The Blue Tigers play their first match against Thailand on January 6, followed by hosts UAE on January 10, and Bahrain on January 14, 2019.
"The Asian Cup is a massive tournament for India and everyone involved in the sport," said Head Coach Stephen Constantine sitting beside. "We have three games from January 6-14 and I am focusing on them. We will take one game at a time and we have scouted Thailand intensively to the point that we have watched them 3-4 times for analysis," he informed.
"We look forward to make India proud", Constantine added.
Meanwhile, Chhetri stated that "India will be looking to get no less than 3 points against Thailand."
"I was involved in the mock draw that happened for the Asian Cup and I was wondering what team we could draw. I knew whichever team that we drew, it would be difficult for us. But now, we are ready to face anyone. We are well prepared and looking forward to the challenge," Chhetri pronounced.
Comparing India's current preparation to the one in 2011, Chhetri added: "In 2011, we were together for 6 months. But this time of the year, all the boys that have been selected are playing constantly in the Hero Indian Super League and the Hero I-League. Now we just have to come together as a single unit and give it our best shot when we get to UAE."
"I try my best to motivate the team like players like Renedy Singh, Abhishek Yadav, Surkumar and Bhaichung Bhutia did in 2011. I believe that actions speak louder than words and we have come to a time where one player pushes the other to excel," he quipped.
A 28-member squad leaves Indian shores for preparation in Abu Dhabi on Thursday (December 20) with the 23-member list all slated to be announced on December 26. In their preparation for the AFC Asian Cup 2019 UAE, India play an International friendly against Oman on December 27.
Head Coach Stephen Constantine admitted the team has "enough time to acclimatize."
"We have tried our best to prepare in the best possible fashion. We wanted to play big teams and strong teams like we did against China, Jordan. We next play Oman on December 27. We have got the right amount of competition to build us and are ready."
Meanwhile, Nishu Kumar and Jerry Lalrinzuala have been released from the ongoing Camp in Delhi.