With just a day to go before India’s Asian Cup campaign kicks off, former Indian captain and custodian Subrata Paul, a player who has had prior experience playing in the competition, believes that the current team stands a better chance to qualify for the knockouts than the team that travelled to Qatar in 2011.
However, he did warn the players against complacency.
“It depends from the perspective one is looking at it. Going into the tournament, there have been positive results – the draw against China and Oman, and a narrow loss to Jordan despite being forced to field a depleted squad. All of that should add to the confidence of the team. But that should in no way make the boys complacent. Asian Cup is a continental championship and one cannot afford to take things for granted.”
“Personally, I feel we have been handed a much more favourable draw in comparison to the 2011 Asian Cup. Having said that, I understand that all the three opponents in the group stage are tough. But as per the draw, I feel no reason why we shouldn’t make it to the second round. Do remember, that besides the top two in each group, there would be four more teams – the four best third-placed teams from the six groups advancing to the Round of 16.”
The Tata Football Academy graduate praised the goalkeeping trio of Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Amrinder Singh and Vishal Kaith – who have travelled to UAE and provided some valuable advice.
“I am extremely fond of all of them. Gurpreet has matured immensely, and both Amrinder and Vishal have just begun their career at the International level. As a goalkeeper, you need to deal with every shot as if it’s the last shot of the match. There’s no room for any relaxation at any time.”
The goalkeeper is always the spotlight in a team like India as the team does not see much of the ball and it's usually the opposition taking shots at goal. Paul spoke about how it’s a thankless job where mistakes are magnified.
“A goalkeeper is such a special position but will always be a thankless job. No matter how many times you bail out your team, fans will always remember you for the mishap which you make. That makes goalkeepers stronger and more matured with age. I have always felt a goalkeeper reaches his peak when is 30 plus.”
The custodian has played under coach Stephen Constantine and is familiar with his selection criteria. However, he was critical of the same, hinting that there has been some inconsistency with his selection methods.
“I have played under him in his first stint in India when I was a teenager, and then captained India when he came over for his second stint as a coach. He has always expressed that performance will form the bed rock of his selection criteria for the team. But looking back, I feel he just mentioned it for his own convenience.”