Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates: India registered their biggest-ever AFC Asian Cup win on Sunday as they defeated Thailand 4-1 at the Al Nahyan Stadium in their Group A fixture.
Sunil Chhetri scored a brace to get the Blue Tigers going and second-half goals from Anirudh Thapa and Jeje Lalpekhlua sealed a historic victory for Stephen Constantine’s men.
The Briton was delighted to have overseen a brilliant display by his team, one he believes has allowed football fanatics to discover India’s capability at the continental stage. However, with matches against hosts UAE and Bahrain to come, the coach has his feet firmly on the ground.
“I am delighted with the performance. I thought the boys fought for the entire 93 minutes. I am happy to get our first win in the Asian Cup after so many years,” the India head coach said.
He added, “We try to win every game. We want to compete, be competitive. I think we have done very well in the last two-three years.
It is a process. We are not getting carried away. We won a game but there are two games left. We need another two points at least to have hopes of qualifying. We came here to qualify. It is time we are no longer looking at India in the way we were. I think today, people got a good look at what we are capable of. Stephen Constantine – Coach
FC Pune City winger Ashique Kuruniyan was one of India’s best players on the night. He was deployed in a free role alongside Sunil Chhetri, with Udanta Singh and Halicharan Narzary taking up the flanks but the youngster showed no signs of nerves and worked his socks off to press Thailand into errors. It was Ashique who forced a handball off Theerathon Bunmathan in the 26th minute, allowing Sunil Chhetri slot home his 66th international goal.
“Ashique is very raw, young, strong and fit. He needs to do a lot of things to be the complete player. We wanted a bit of space and a bit of physicality. He is a bit quicker than Jeje and Balwant (Singh) and that was the thought process, to try and stretch and make it difficult for them. And he did not stop running, so fair play to him,” Constantine commented.
The British coach stressed that the hard work put in over the last few years contributed to the win. “I don’t think my team became world class in the last three months. We are working on this since last four years. The result in China was a good result. We are happy with the win but this didn’t happen in the last three months but in the last four years.”
Up next for India are hosts UAE in Group A at Sheikh Zayed Sports City on January 10, 2018. While tougher tests await in the 2019 Asian Cup, India have every reason to celebrate what will be a memorable win.
(ISL Media | Picture: AFC Media)