Abu Dhabi, January 2: 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.
"All of us are super excited and thrilled right now. Apart from me and Gurpreet, it's a first-time experience for everyone else. Everyone is ready to grab this opportunity," Chhetri was quoted by the AIFF website.
"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,'' the Indian skipper added.
After 8 years, the #BlueTigers will take the field in the AFC #AsianCup again! #BackTheBlue all the way in their first match of the tournament, against 118-ranked Thailand, LIVE only on Star Sports. #FanBannaPadega pic.twitter.com/g4s1Brdh7C— Star Sports Football (@StarFootball) January 2, 2019
Chhetri, the highest Indian scorer in International Football with 65 goals to his name, however, refrained from commenting as to which team will post the toughest challenge for India in the group stage.
Proud to have two family members play in the AFC Asian Cup: Subrata Bhattacharya on Sunil Chhetri | AFC Asian Cup: We plan to play to our strengths: Anas Edathodika | We aim to overcome all adversities: Anirudh Thapa
"At the moment, our sole focus is on our opening fixture - the game against Thailand. At the moment, we are not looking at anything beyond that. Yeah, there are matches against UAE and Bahrain lined up but we will think about them only when they come. At the moment we know that Thailand will be a very tough opponent and we are concentrating only on them."
Chhetri has played 104 international matches so far, only three shy of his 'mentor' Bhaichung Bhutia who had represented the nation for a record 107 times. But he stressed that he never plays for records. "It feels good when I get a record under my name. But I don't keep track of records. After 10 seconds, I just forget it and move on," he said.
"I never take any pressure of chasing any record. I never ever dreamt that I would play more than 100 games for India or score 60-odd goals."
The 34-year-old striker was quick to call himself a 'big fan' of the Sikkimese Sniper, Bhutia, expressing he has learnt many a thing from his him.
"I have always been a big fan of Bhaichung-bhai. Tell me who isn't? I have learnt so many things from him," he stated. "He has always been a huge support," signed off 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 along side Thailand, Bahrain and hosts UAE. They play their first match on Sunday against Thailand here, followed by games against UAE (Abu Dhabi) and Bahrain (Sharjah) on January 10 and 14 respectively.
(Source: AIFF & PTI)