Atanu Bhattacharya, who starred for India in the 1984 edition of the competition, hailed the 4-1 victory over the War Elephants and believes that the body language of the team under Stephen Constantine has undergone a massive change and credited the Englishman for the same.
“It is a great achievement for India. I think this is the first time India has scored four against Thailand. We had scored three in 1986 against Thailand courtesy of a Krishanu (Dey) hat-trick. However, that was not as big a platform like this one. We needed to win the first match by hook or by crook. It will hand India an advantage as now both UAE and Bahrain will be under pressure. Secondly, the goal margin will also become a big factor.
“The body language of the team has undergone a massive change. They looked like a winning side. The credit goes to the entire team management,” Bhattacharya told Goal.
Ashique Kuruniyan was the star of the evening despite not getting on the score-sheet. He won the penalty which was duly converted by the veteran Sunil Chhetri. It was his assist for India’s second goal which drew immense praise from Bhattacharya, who was named in the Asian All Star team in 1984.
“I think India started a bit slow. But they came back strongly in the second half. Ashique was a revelation in today's match. After many years I witnessed a striker who can hold the ball and play with a good understanding with his co-striker. The understanding that Chhetri and Ashique showed was phenomenal.
“It needs hours of practice to develop this. The assist that he provided to Sunil clearly shows that Indian football is moving in the right direction,” said Bhattacharya.
He also opined that Constantine’s decision to hand a rookie Kuruniyan a start instead of the experienced Jeje Lalpekhlua was a masterstroke.
“Constantine knew that in this modern era you have video analysts and what not through which you study your opponent. Thailand have seen Jeje play a lot and had prepared for him. Now, Ashique is a new player and the opposition must have not taken into consideration this player. It was a brilliant move to field Ashique as he is a young player who has an incredible work rate.
“Moreover, Constantine also used his substitutes very well. He used them at the right time and when a substitute scores, it is the most pleasing thing for a coach. I am very happy to see a player like Ashique in Indian team. He can play with the ball and also is a tall player which is an important characteristic of a striker,” he pointed.
India did concede a goal in the first half from a set-piece and Bhattacharya reasoned that Gurpreet Singh Sandhu should have probably done better to not come off his line as he completely missed the ball.
“It was a brilliant free-kick. It was a venomous inswinger. I think Gurpreet could have stayed on his line. The delivery was at a low height, not at a height where the keeper can jump and collect. I think if he had stayed on the goal-line then he could have judged better,” he shared his thoughts.
India take on UAE on January 10th in their second game at the Asian Cup.