India eye positive start to campaign

Football Asian Cup qualifiers: Chhetri-led side faces Myanmar in opener

India eye positive start to campaign
The Indian football team would look to open its AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers campaign on a positive note when it takes on Myanmar in a potentially tricky match here on Tuesday.

India have been boosted by a 3-2 victory over Cambodia in their first international friendly of the year last week but it would not be easy to get three points against Myanmar.

Though Myanmar are 40 spots below India (132nd) in the latest FIFA rankings, they have a better head-to-head record and Stephen Constantine’s men will have to play out of their skins if they are to come out triumphant.

The last time the two sides met was also in Yangon, in 2013 and India had lost by a solitary goal in the AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers.

Well aware of India’s unfavourable past record, Constantine had conceded that Myanmar are the favourites in the match but on Monday he said that his side would be happy to draw the match.

“The players have worked very hard to prepare for the game against Myanmar and it will be a challenge for us. We have the utmost respect for Myanmar as they are a very tough Team. I expect a very tough and tight game,” he said.

“India can beat anybody on their day. But that does not mean that you cannot have a bad day. Sometimes there are good days sometimes there are bad days. That is football,” he added.

India have been clubbed in Group A of the qualifying round alongside Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar and Macau. Three points will give the Indian side a much-needed fillip in an open group where anybody can defeat anybody on their day.

“We believe we have a chance to qualify for the finals and so does Myanmar and so does every team in the group. Hence it is vital not to lose our first game,” said Constantine.

Asked about an expected big turnout for the home team, Constantine quipped: “The pressure will be on the home team. We have worked hard coming into the game and we need to play our best.”

Sunil Chhetri, who will captain the Indian side, said past records will be of no real significance once the teams take to the pitch.

“We have watched a lot of videos of Myanmar’s former matches. And it is clear that we cannot, just cannot underestimate our opponents,” Chhetri said.

‘Unity is our strength’
Meanwhile, Indian striker Jeje Lalpekhlua believes the national team’s biggest strength lies in its unity as they brace up for the clash.

“Unity is our biggest strength. There are so many new players who are young and they gel well. At the same time, we have seniors like Sunil bhai (Chhetri) and Subrata bhai (Paul) to guide us,” said striker Jeje Lalpekhlua.

Jeje is among the five players, who were part of the team that lost to Myanmar in the 2013 AFC Challenge Cup Qualifiers, the last meeting between the tow sides.

Chhetri, veteran goalkeeper Subrata Paul, CK Vineeth and Robin Singh are the four other players. Paul added that the team cannot afford any slip-up.

“We have youth on our side. We have been getting results. We have trained hard for this match. We cannot afford any slip ups” Paul said.

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