Bhutia: India can finish in top two from AFC Asian Cup group

Former Indian football team captain Bhaichung Bhutia feels that his former side has got a favourable draw for the 2019 Asian Cup which will be held in UAE.

Bhaichung Bhutia captained India during the 2011 AFC Asian Cup.   -  PTI

Former national football team skipper Bhaichung Bhutia is hopeful of India's progression into the knockout stages of the AFC Asian Cup which will be held in UAE next year.

Bhutia's optimism stems from the fact that the Stephen Constantine-coached side didn't draw the big players of Asian football in Group A. The draw held last week saw India grouped with host UAE, Thailand and Bahrain.

"I am very happy with the group which we have drawn. I feel we have been extremely lucky as we didn’t draw any Asian Superpower – Iran, Japan, Australia and the Korea Republic -- in our group. Every pot had six teams and from Pot A we avoided all the teams who have qualified for the 2018 World Cup, "he told in an interview with aiff.com.

The 41-year-old, who captained the side in the 2011 group stage exit in Qatar, went on to add that this time around "we can finish among the top two from our group and qualify to the Round of 16, with a bit of luck."

He felt the India's higher ranking (no. 97) among its group opponents would play a psychological part in the outcome. "Physically and mentally we need to prepare ourselves for our best and that always adds to the confidence. Perhaps, this is the first-ever time when India are ranked 2nd among the four teams in the group. Admit or deny, it’s bound to have a very significant impact on the mentality of the players," said Bhutia.

The 2019 event will be India's third participation since 1956 and the former East Bengal and Mohun Bagan forward reiterated the importance of qualifying for the tournament on a regular basis. "It’s very important for Indian football to qualify to the AFC Asian Cup on a regular basis. It is the biggest tournament for us – the Continental Championship. That’s the platform where we get to play against the best Asian players who play all over the world. Such tournaments come as a learning curve and is a huge publicity for Indian football," he said.

 

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