India will be a difficult team to beat in the Asian Cup football tournament starting on Saturday, especially after their recent draws against more fancied China and Oman, said talismanic captain Sunil Chhetri.
The Asian Cup, the continent’s showpiece event, will be played in four cities of the United Arab Emirates from January 5 to February 1.
India have been clubbed in Group A alongside Thailand, Bahrain and hosts UAE. They will play their first match on Sunday against Thailand, followed by games against UAE (Abu Dhabi) and Bahrain (Sharjah) on January 10 and 14 respectively.
Ranked 15th in Asia, India played against three quality sides — China, Oman and Jordan — in their build-up to the Asian Cup. The Stephen Constantine-coached side drew goal-less against China and Oman and lost to Jordan 1-2.
China (76th) and Oman (82nd) are ranked higher than India (97th) while Jordan are below a few rungs down at 109th.
“I can assure you that it won’t be an easy job for other teams to face us. We are a team who hate to lose, and we have proven it in recent times. We are working as per the plan,” Chhetri was quoted as saying by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) website.
“All of us are super excited and thrilled right now. Apart from me and Gurpreet (Singh Sandhu), it’s a first-time experience for all else. Everyone is ready to grab this opportunity (of playing in the Asian Cup),” said the skipper, who is set to become the only Indian to feature in two Asian Cup tournaments.
The 34-year-old Chhetri was part of the Indian team that featured in the 2011 edition in Doha where the country lost all their group matches — against Australia, South Korea and Bahrain. Goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu was in the 2011 squad but did not play any match.
Chhetri, the highest Indian scorer in international football with 65 goals, said that his team was focussing solely on the match against Thailand and not looking beyond that.