Legendary Indian footballer Baichung Bhutia is “happy” about the group India have drawn in the AFC Asian Cup 2019.
In an exclusive AIFF Media interview, Bhutia, the sole Indian footballer till date to have played in over 100 international matches mentioned “India can finish among the top two in the group” and qualify to the Round of 16.
What do you think of India’s draw in the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019?
I am very happy with the group which we have drawn. I feel we have been extremely lucky as we didn’t draw any Asian superpower – Iran, Japan, Australia and the Korea Republic – in our group. Every pot had six teams and from Pot A we avoided all the teams who have qualified for the 2018 World Cup.
So you feel it’s an easy group?
In international football nothing is easy. But in comparison to the group in Doha 2011 where we were clubbed with the then World Cuppers Australia and Korea Republic, this looks good, or should I say favourable. Not to forget that the other team in our group in 2011 was Bahrain, and they had played the World Cup play-offs from Asia too (for the FIFA World Cup South Africa 2010).
Do you think we can make it to the round of 16 this time around?
I feel that we can finish among the top two from our group and qualify to the Round of 16. I understand it’s not that easy but it’s also not impossible. With a fair deal of hard work and a bit of luck, we can achieve it.
Can you elaborate?
Physically and mentally we need to prepare ourselves for our best and that always adds to the confidence. Perhaps this is the first-ever time when India are ranked 2nd among the four teams in the group. Admit or deny, it’s bound to have a very significant impact on the mentality of the players.
I reiterate you need to approach it with caution. But it’s possible.
How should the team approach it?
Just putting in hard work won’t always get you there. You need to have the self-belief and the vision along with it as it can do wonders. The attitude of ‘we can do it’ defines great teams. In such tournaments, mere putting in your 100 percent won’t work. You need to put in that extra effort which can sail you through.
What’s the significance of qualifying to the AFC Asian Cup in Indian football?
It’s very important for Indian football to qualify to the AFC Asian Cup on a regular basis. It is the biggest tournament for us – the Continental Championship. That’s the platform where we get to play against the best Asian players who play all over the world. Such tournaments come as a learning curve and is a huge publicity for Indian football.