Yangon, Mar 27: Indian footballers feel the national team’s biggest strength lies in its unity, as they braced up to take on Myanmar in the AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers here tomorrow. Also Read - We Condemn Any Use Of Violence, Says MEA On Situation In Myanmar
“Unity is our biggest strength. There are so many new players who are young and they gel well. At the same time, we have seniors like Sunil bhai (Chhetri) and Subrata bhai (Paul) to guide us,” said striker Jeje Lalpekhlua. Also Read - Manipur Govt Withdraws Order That Denies Food, Shelter to Myanmar Refugees: Report
Jeje is among the five players from the current side who were part of the team that lost to Myanmar in the 2013 AFC Challenge Cup Qualifiers, the last meeting between the tow sides. Also read: AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers: India take on Myanmar on Tuesday Also Read - Myanmar Bloodshed 'Absolutely Outrageous', US Working on Sanctions; Says Joe Biden
Skipper Sunil Chhetri, veteran goalkeeper Subrata Paul, CK Vineeth and Robin Singh are the four other players.
“There is some similarity between the two matches. Even then we were playing to qualify for the Asian Cup and even now we are playing for the same cause,” said Chhetri, the country’s highest scorer.
“The only difference as I see it is that this time the fate is still in our hands. We did not play very well in that game (in 2013) but this time we have six games to lay our claim for a berth in 2019.”
Chhetri, who plies his trade at Bengaluru FC in domestic club football, continued, “There are a lot many new players, we have a new coach and the morale is high. Also read: FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017: Match Schedules and Official Slogan
“Myanmar are a very good side at home. In my career I have learnt that you need to be at your best on that specific day and we need to do that.”
‘Spiderman’ Paul said the team cannot afford any slip-up.
“We have youth on our side. We have been getting results.
We have trained hard for this match. We cannot afford any slip ups. I won’t say the faces have changed, I feel the face has changed,” Paul said.
Will the crowd be a factor?
“That’s the beauty of home and away matches. You play in front of a hostile crowd as much as you play in front of your own fans. Personally, I have always been inspired while playing in front of a hostile crowd. Against Cambodia, we played in front of a 70,000 partisan crowd. It was a great experience for all,” he added.
Striker Robin Singh opined that the team needs a good start.
“We are improving with every day. We need to get off to a good start and we are focussing on that,” Singh, who had scored his first international goal in Yangon in 2013, said.
“They will be at home and it’s understandable they will have all the support. But we won’t be there alone on the field. Our job is to work hard and support each other on the field. If we are to overcome the obstacle, there is no other way. We need to put our best foot forward.
Winger CK Vineeth recollected the 2013 AFC Challenge Cup game in his first international tour with the national team.
“I am much experienced as a player at present. At that time (in 2013), I was a newcomer settling down into international football.
“The experience of playing in Myanmar last time has helped me evolve tougher as a player. There is no reason why we can’t. We need to stick together and never lose our self-belief.”