Having qualified for AFC Asian Cup 2019, India were drawn in Group A against UAE, Thailand and Bahrain. Currently preparing for the Intercontinental Cup in Mumbai, the squad features a handful of youngsters.
Amongst them are Lalruatthara and Anirudh Thapa, who plied their trade for Kerala Blasters and Chennaiyin respectively in the Indian Super League (ISL). Speaking ahead of the four-nation tournament, left-back Lalruatthara expressed his satisfaction over the Blue Tigers’ Group A opponents. ‘’I think it was a good draw for us. This group is a good one for us but all those who did qualify for the Asian Cup are good sides. We will try (our best) and are in preparation for the Asian Cup,’’ he commented.
A standout player in Kerala’s squad this season, the Mizoram-born defender was delighted with his form. ‘’This season has been great for me. I made my debut against Kyrgyzstan and was very proud to represent my country. I gave my best and for me, it was a dream come true. Now I have to work harder and harder to be in the (starting) eleven.
‘’I was called up for the home game against Kyrgyzstan (in June 2017) for the first time. That time, I was in Aizawl FC. I did not make the cut for the 23-man squad then. But I was learning and getting better day-by-day since then. Fitness-wise, mentally and physically, I was improving. I can say I improved in every part (of the game).’’
Just like Ruatthara, Anirudh Thapa has had a successful season too, especially with the ISL winner’s medal in his pocket. On being asked if there is pressure to deliver again, he answered, ‘’It is not like I am in the limelight to have any pressure. But yes, playing for the national team, there is some kind of pressure.’’
The 20-year-old, who has often proven to be impactful as a substitute, is now focused on bagging a place in the starting XI. ‘’Right now, my only focus is to improve. Because at this age, I just need to improve a lot. This season I was used mainly as a substitute. I am thinking that I need to start many games for Chennaiyin FC next season. From the national team setup, I am learning a lot.’’
India will lock horns with Chinese Taipei in the first match of the Intercontinental Cup on June 1 at the Mumbai Football Arena. The tournament will end on June 10.