Despite the fact that he went to the UAE, the morale of Team India was still high
PANAJI: When Sunil Chhetri was stopped for a flash
interview by the organising team, the India captain still appeared
dazed from the 0-2 loss against United Arab Emirates (UAE) in the
Asian Cup 2019.
India had done enough to create chances, test the goalkeeper in a one-on-one situation twice and had even hit the bar. Yet, the hosts, clinical in front of goal, scored twice from the three shots they had on target. Both goals appeared to stem from defensive lapses, although the lion-hearted efforts of Sandesh Jhingan and Co. at the back could not be discounted.
Chhetri, meanwhile, couldn't forgive himself for that miss from point-blank range. A teasing cross from the fast-improving Anirudh Thapa should have been buried in the back of the net by Chhetri. Instead, he found the goalkeeper in his way.
Had he, or Ashique Kuruniyan, given the finishing touches, things would have been different. Yet, nobody has lost any belief that they can get a positive result against Bahrain in the concluding league clash on Monday and make it to the knockout stage.
"Now, there is another big challenge (against Bahrain). We need to make sure we stay strong as a team," goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu told TOI on Saturday.
India's performance at the Asian Cup has taken many by surprise but the team hasn't surprised themselves. Ever since the encouraging performances against China, Jordan and Oman in friendlies - two of which were goalless draws - the team believes they can keep punching above their weight; that, if anything, they would make life difficult for their rivals on the field.
"Those games against China, Jordan, Oman and even the Inter-Continental Cup helped us. Those matches gave us confidence and made us believe we need to go to the Asian Cup thinking we need points on the table. That's what we, as a team, have worked for all these years. We needed to make sure that we have the winning mentality. It's ingrained in us now, and it's the result of our work for the last three years," said Sandhu, who went to Asian Cup 2011 in Qatar but did not get a game.
Meanwhile, India could finish first or fourth in group A, depending on the result of the concluding league games. A win for India against Bahrain will give them six points and an automatic spot in the round of 16. A draw should also be enough, although nobody is leaving anything to chance.