Blue Tigers united in quest to realize the Asian Dream
The countdown to the AFC Asian Cup 2019 has reached its final stages and barely a week from now, the Indian national team will begin their campaign in the continental showpiece against Thailand at the Al Nahyan Stadium in Abu Dhabi.
When Stephen Constantine's men step out on the field on January 6, it will be a big milestone for Indian football - a culmination of years of hard work and steady progress, which earned them a place in Asia's biggest footballing event for only the fourth time in the country's history. However, the goal will be far from being achieved. As for the Blue Tigers' long-term objectives, the AFC Asian Cup appearance will be a stepping stone towards a brighter future and to solidify the launchpad, the team will look to make a big mark in the continent's premier competition.
The aim to make this Asian Dream a memorable one is shared by most of the country, especially the players. However, it's easier said than done, considering the quality of the opponents who await India in the group stage. India are grouped with Thailand, hosts UAE and Bahrain in Group A and the Blue Tigers will need to be at their very best to make it to the Round of 16.
Experienced midfielder Pronay Halder admitted that the team will have their work cut out for them to clear the group stage hurdle, but stated that team will leave no stones unturned. "All opponents pose threats. I always believe in giving them respect both on and off the pitch. But I won’t give away an inch during the match. We believe that we can make it out of this group. That’s our target," the 25-year-old said.
Youngster Anirudh Thapa, who is expected to partner Pronay in midfield, also recognized the tough challenge at hand but stressed that the team was ready for it. "UAE will be the toughest team in our group as they are hosts. They possess a lot of quality. Thailand and Bahrain will also present their own set of challenges. But we are ready for it. We need to play united as a team, and aim to overcome the adversity," he said.
Anirudh's teammate Anas Edathodika also echoed his young colleague's statement and stated that the team will give equal importance to all the matches. "Every team will present their own challenges and will be as tough as the other. You cannot pinpoint one team and say that they are tougher than the other. We will be playing tough nail-biting matches against all three opponents in the first round," the centre-back admitted.
Winger Halicharan Narzary touched upon his personal ambitions from the tournament but made it clear that the team objective of reaching the Round of 16 will always take top priority. "I aim to score a couple of goals in the tournament. Of course, qualifying for the Round of 16 is of paramount importance," he said.