Indian men’s senior national team defender Sandesh Jhingan believes his side are maintaining their good form and are improving through each game despite the results. The Blue Tigers shared the spoils with Lebanon in the final group stage game of the Hero Intercontinental Cup at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar, Odisha, on Thursday.

Despite being the better attacking team and having more share of the possession, the Igor Stimac-coached side weren’t able to have a crack at the goal. However, the Blue Tigers were disciplined defensively, keeping the opposition on the backfoot for the majority of the game, and registering a hard-fought clean sheet.

“Of course, we would have liked or wanted to win, same goes for Lebanon, even they went for the win. I think we created enough chances, that’s a positive, but like we spoke in the dressing room, we want to keep improving in every game. When we played Mongolia, our target was to play better against Vanuatu, and our aim was to go a few steps up rather than a few steps back,” Jhingan stated in the post-match press conference.

“Based on that, we achieved that objective, a clean sheet is a solid base for any team going forward and your pursuit of getting better as a team in the longer run. So a lot of positives and a lot of things we know we can improve and that's the beauty of football. You keep realising how good you can be if you work on your own weaknesses and so overall I would say there was a good learning experience in this game,” he added.

The defender marked 50 appearances in India’s previous game against Vanuatu. At the heart of the Indian backline, Jhingan is the only player to have started all three games for the national team in the competition, clocking all 270 minutes and keeping three clean sheets in the process.

Reflecting on the coach’s trust on him to start each game, the 29-year-old remained humble and shared an anecdote about his ritual each time he’s called up into the probable squad, the national team, or the playing XI.

“As an individual, as an athlete, as part of the national team, you always feel good when the coach puts the trust in you, but we knew (what) the changes were because they were back-to-back games. Every call I get in the camp, I offer a prayer to the Gods every time, even till date. Now, when I get the message that I'm called up for the camp and the probables, I offer a prayer. I thank the Lord. Every time I make it to 23 or 26 (player squad), I offer a prayer to the Lord. I call my mom, I say even till date – I've been in the national team for 10 years – I call my mother as I made it to the 23 (player squad),” he stated.

“Every time I get a chance to play for the country, even if I have to play every day, even if half my body is in the grave or whatever it doesn't matter. As long as I'm getting a chance to play for the country, I feel the most humble, I feel the most blessed and always take it as a blessing and keep doing my service for the glory of this great country,” he expressed.

India have now kept consecutive clean sheets in their last six international games including three in the Hero Intercontinental Cup. Expressing his modesty, the Punjab-born player appreciated the efforts of the entire team as a unit rather than just the defence line.

“I think it would be selfish if I would just give the credit of the clean sheets just to the defence. If I just take our nation, when I made my debut, we were 175 (in the FIFA ranking). So, it's been eight years since I made my debut, and we've come to 99/100 (in the FIFA rankings). I don't know, I kept some 20, 25, 30 clean sheets, in 50 appearances and other games as well when I was not part of it. So you see, it's a constant gradual growth in terms of keeping clean sheets, scoring goals, and winning trophies," he explained.

With SAFF Championship and King’s Cup lined up ahead of the Hero Intercontinental Cup, the centre-back called for his side to be vigilant and not get too ahead of themselves after reaching the final irrespective of the outcome.

“We know our limits, we know our strengths and just got to keep improving. Like I said, each game, each training session is a process to get better, and we shouldn't boost ourselves way too much. Still haven't won the final, still the SAFF Cup is ahead. And I know how critical everyone can be if we don't achieve that. So just stay humble, keep working hard, that's it,” he concluded.