The Asian Cup 2019 is upon us and the Indian Team is sweating it out in a bid to make this a tournament to remember. Former Indian captain Bhaichung Bhutia has had his share of experience of playing in the tournament in 2011. The Sikkimese Sniper believes that India’s first game of the tournament could determine their chances of progressing further.
India face Thailand on Sunday in their Asian Cup opener. With a possibility of qualifying as one of the best third placed teams, the Blue Tigers could receive a boost in their qualification hopes if they bag three points against the War Elephants. However, the 42-year-old believes that a defeat could deal serious damage to their hopes of entering the last 16.
“I think India’s chances in the Asian Cup depends on how they start. I think that the chances of progressing to the second round will completely depend upon India’s first game, which is against Thailand.”
“The first game will be crucial for India. If they win that, they can look at going into the second round but if they don’t win, then it will be difficult.”
Bhutia believes that the current team will be more confident and psychologically geared up to step into the battlefield when compared to the team that participated in the 2011 Asian Cup. The exposure that the Indian Super League (ISL) has provided is a major factor behind this.
“I think this team is definitely more positive (when compared to the 2011 team). The confidence will be high as they have been playing regularly in the ISL. They shared the dressing room with some of the best players and coaches. So, the confidence level will be high and I think they will be geared up psychologically.”
Stephen Constantine has opted for a young squad and the lack of experience could be a hindrance. But the former Indian team captain believes that age factor will not be as influential as the consistency in team selection.
“I think that (the age of the squad) has its plusses and minuses. The team did well against China and Jordan. So it would be best to stick to the same team. The team has been performing well and it the age factor should not matter.”
The fact that the likes of Jeje Lalpekhlua, Balwant Singh and Sumeet Passi are firing blanks in the ISL should be a cause for worry. But Bhutia believes that the focus will entirely be on the Indian defence and out-of-form strikers should not be a concern.
“I think the Asian Cup will be more about defending and keeping the discipline rather than attacking. So, the tournament will be more about the defenders who need to stand like a solid rock at the back. The strikers’ form should not be much of a concern as (Stephen) Constantine sets up his team as a defensively strong side. This will determine India’s chances of qualifying to the second round.”