India have the ability to qualify for the knockout stage of the 2019 Asian Cup, said national football team coach Stephen Constantine, giving wings to his players’ aspirations, quite appropriately, from the world’s tallest building — the Burj Khalifa.
India were clubbed with hosts United Arab Emirates, Thailand and Bahrain in Group A of the AFC Asian Cup, the draw for which was held at the iconic Burj Khalifa.
“I think it’s a group from where we can qualify to the knockout stage. I won’t say it’s an easy group but we have the ability to win against some of these teams and on our day, we can beat most of them,” Constantine, who attended the draw along with team manager Shanmugam Venkatesh, said.
“All these teams will give us different kinds of problems and we have to be prepared before facing them in the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019,” he added.
The last time India participated in the continental tournament, in 2011, they were thrashed by South Korea, Australia and Bahrain, returning home bruised and battered after conceding a barrage of goals.
Meanwhile captain Sunil Chhetri, along with Iranian legend Ali Daei, iconic Chinese player Sun Jihai and Philippines’ star Philip James Younghusband coordinated the picks for the four respective pots helping AFC General Secretary Dato Windsor John to conduct the draw.
Speaking at the ceremony, Chhetri said: “The AFC Asian Cup is an enormous opportunity for us and we are looking forward to it. Back home in India, everyone is excited and we have the blessings of all the people and we will do our best.”
“The AFC Asian Cup gives us the opportunity to rub shoulders with the best of Asia and play against players who many of whom play in many a Premier League across Europe and other parts of the world.”
Chhetri, India’s all-time leading scorer, will be the lynchpin of the team.
“It will be an eye-opener and even if it is a learning experience, we aim to be competitive and give our best on the pitch,” he said.
“I was part of the national team in 2011 in Doha where we last played in the Continental Championship. Qualifying to the Asian Cup for the second time in eight years is great for Indian football,” he added.