Sandesh Jhingan has a very important role to play when India takes to the field in the AFC Asian Cup in UAE. He is a vital cog in India's defence which is expected to be put under a lot of pressure in the tournament.
He has shown his ability to step up to the plate on multiple occasions. He had hardly put a foot wrong in the friendly against China on October 13, 2018, which ended 0-0. He marshalled the back-line like a leader and ensured that the likes of Wu Lei and Yu Dabao were kept at bay.
Although the 25-year-old defender has had an average season in the domestic circuit with Kerala Blasters, one can expect to find a much-improved performance in UAE when he dons the national colours.
Jhingan opines that India has a chance to make it into the knockout stages this time around after failing in their last two attempts.
"After 1984 and 2011, we are there once again at the AFC Asian Cup. I personally believe that we should be more regular in the Asian Cup. The ultimate dream is to play in the World Cup but for that, the initial plan is to be regular at Asian Cup and be a dominant force in Asia.
"Yes, we did not have a great start when Stephen (Constantine) came in. The World Cup qualifiers did not go well. But the team showed their character and qualified (for the Asian Cup). It is a long process. We worked hard for it. We deserved it. But we cannot rest on our laurels. We need to show our desire commitment and determination because I personally believe that we can qualify from the group. It is going to be tough but with the effort we put in, sky is the limit for us," Jhingan told Goal.
A lot will depend on the performance of Jhingan and Anas Edathodika at the heart of the defence. If the two players can keep it tight at the back then India have a healthy chance of picking up the required points to qualify for the knock-outs.
"I have an extremely good partnership with Anas. We have played 15-to-16 games together. In defence, the more you play together, the better you become. It's not only about me. All four defenders need to play together. It's like a unit. We need to know each other completely. Even without looking we know what are we going to do. Not only Anas, with Pritam (Kotal) also I have a good understanding. Since the India U-19 days, we have been together. But there is always a room for improvement."
India will be challenged by a strong UAE outfit who in spite of the absence of Omar Abdulrahman remain a formidable side. But the former Sporting Club de Goa defender believes that India have the mettle to take on Alberto Zaccheroni's men head-on.
"Personally, I love it when we are playing against a team who are in-form. You are tested the most. I enjoy it. China is a decent side managed by a great coach, but we accepted the challenge with positivity. The result shows that we have it in us. You always want to play these big games. That's where you get to know who you really are."
India have played only three international friendlies since the Intercontinental Cup and Jhingan accepts that he would have 'loved' to play more.
"The word satisfaction is a bit complicated. Yes, of course, I would love to play more games. Also, you have to see that the league was going on. India is a huge country and the travelling takes a toll on your body as well. So I would l have loved to play more games but I won't complain that we have played less," signed off the 25-year-old.
The Blue Tigers will start their campaign against Thailand on January 6 at the Al-Nahyan Stadium in Abu Dhabi.