Jeje Lalpekhlua: ‘The sleeping giant is now awake’

India is not a sleeping giant any more, according to forward Jeje Lalpekhlua. The team demonstrated it belonged at the same level as the footballing giants of Asia, at the AFC Asian Cup 2019, he says.

Jeje Lalpekhlua (centre) says the win against Thailand was India’s “biggest achievement” at the AFC Asian Cup.   -  AFP

India’s performance at the AFC Asian Cup, 2019, demonstrated that the team belonged at the same level as the footballing giants of Asia, according to Indian forward Jeje Lalpekhlua.

“The sleeping giant is now awake,” Jeje was quoted as saying by the All India Football Federation (AIFF). “We have shown to all in Asia that we belong on the same page as them (sic). Our performance in the AFC Asian Cup has improved tenfold, and it can only get better from here as the young players have been given the needed experience,” he declared.

‘Could have done better’

Jeje, however, admitted the team could have done better in the tournament. After its 4-1 win over Thailand, it suffered defeats against host UAE and Bahrain to bow out in the first round.

NEWS, FEATURES AND MORE FROM AFC ASIAN CUP 2019

“Our biggest achievement was the win against Thailand,” Jeje, who had scored India’s fourth goal on the night, said. “We gave our 100 percent in every match. But we could have done better. Not qualifying out of the group stages is a setback for us. It shows that anything can happen in football.”

‘Difficult match’

The defeat against Bahrain was unfortunate, says Jeje Lalpekhlua. Photo: AFP

 

Reflecting on the 1-0 defeat against Bahrain, in what turned out to be its final match of the tourney, he said, “It was a very difficult match against Bahrain and it was very unfortunate the way we lost. However, that is life in football, and the important part stays the experience earned by the young players that will give dividends in the future,” he said.

“We have to make the qualification to the AFC Asian Cup a regular feature in our calendars. Now we need to focus to do well in the World Cup Qualifiers, followed by yet again qualifying for the Asian Cup,” he stressed.

“The most important lesson that we have learnt is that Indian football can go only upwards from here towards a brighter future.”