Indian men’s senior national football team have etched their name into the history books after they sealed back-to-back qualification in the AFC Asian Cup for the first time ever.

Palestine’s 4-0 win over Philippines in their Group B clash paved the way for India’s qualification as India have a greater points tally than Philippines even after having a game in hand.

With a target to finish on the top of Group D and win all three of their matches, Igor Stimac’s men will leave no stone unturned to finish off their Asian Cup Qualifiers campaign on a high note.

Ahead of their summit clash against Hong Kong, Indian stalwarts Prasun Banerjee and Syed Rahim Nabi share key insights on the Blue Tigers in an exclusive chat with

Here are the excerpts from their chat:

Prasun Banerjee (1974-1982, 49 matches for India)

The Indian national team is playing like a well-oiled machine. In their final match on Tuesday, they will face a resilient Hong Kong, who are perfect professionals. India have created a lot of chances across the two matches in the Asian Cup 2023 Qualifiers, but their conversion rate is poor and that needs to improve. Over dependence on Sunil Chhetri may create problems similar to ones in the last match because Hong Kong will deploy players to man-mark him and will guard their fort by leaving no room for Chhetri to run into spaces. That’s why other attackers like Manvir Singh, Liston Colaco should go for goal.

The team should be fully focused to not concede goals and keep a clean sheet. Their attitude for victory will be significant too. Afghanistan has improved a lot. During my playing years, we had beaten them 9-0. In the current times, they are a different side and I believe they can beat Hong Kong as well. 

My suggestion would be that India should start with a 4-4-2 or a 4-3-3 formation against Hong Kong. With six points already in the bag, we should defend first and then go for goals by converting our chances. Against big teams, chances never come easily. That’s why our players must convert those few chances. Igor Stimac’s boys have to score an early goal to double their confidence level and dominate most of the 90 minutes. We have a good coach and a good captain. Tactically and technically, we are in a better place too. Can’t say that we can be the Asian Cup Champion. But our team is not easy to beat and deserve to be promoted in the finals. Moreover, Indians will perform in front of their home crowd, which will enhance their confidence and strength. That’s why, I believe, India is going to get the ticket for finals tonight.         

Syed Rahim Nabi (2004-2013, 61 matches)

India is definitely playing well. But dependency on Sunil Chhetri is not good for them at all. In the long run, it will bring a lot of problems for the team. India have won the last couple of matches because Chhetri has scored in each one of them even though Sahal Abdul Samad scored the brilliant winning goal against Afghanistan. Ashique Kuruniyan is also impressive and almost scored a goal in the last match. But what about others? I couldn’t find any other attacker scoring and this might put the Indian team in trouble in their Hong Kong game. If we manage to reach the finals, India will need at least four different scorers in front of their opponent’s goal.     

Fitness level is a big concern too. In off seasons, after the ISL is over, our footballers should focus on improving their muscle strength and resilience as well. At a higher level, they have to play the game with a higher intensity and physicality. They have to manage them properly and recover well after each match. I know, it can’t happen overnight and it needs proper and foolproof planning. If we have to achieve success at the bigger stages, we must improve in these sectors. Otherwise, stronger teams in Asia like China, Korea, UAE, and Japan may put us in embarrassing situations. You must have noticed in the last match how quickly we conceded a goal after scoring the first one. We can’t afford to lose our concentration for a second even after we score a crucial goal in dying moments.

Finally, we need some experienced players in the team. Watching the Indian team playing without Pronay Halder, Pritam Kotal, Subhasish Bose is painful for me. Not because they are from Bengal but because they are experienced. Like our team has the blessing of Chhetri’s experience, against strong teams there should be some players in the team who have some good international experiences. Missing Pritam and Subhasish in defence, and Pranay in the midfield is a surprise to me.

From my experience, I can say, this is going to be more of a physical duel. The team with better psychological management will keep ahead in the match. We have to convert more chances in the early stages of the match. Otherwise, in the latter half, they will get under gradually increasing pressure because even they will want to keep their winning record intact. Though, they need only a draw to advance to the finals because of a superior goal difference, their attitude will resist them to play that kind of defensive football.