Bengaluru, November 11: Perhaps very few are aware of the fact that Sandesh Jhingan cried as a 17-year old when India lost to Bahrain in the Doha 2011 Asian Cup. In a freewheeling interview, Jhingan travels down memory lane to the day while speaking about his love for the National Team, his self-assessment as a player, the aim at the AFC Asian Cup 2019, defending as a Team, the 'special back-four' and much more.
Personally, what does qualification to the Asian Cup mean to you?
It's a big achievement for the country as it's a continuous process of growth of Indian football after the last qualification in Doha 2011. Our priority from now on is to improve and try to dominate in Asia as the Asian Cup provides us with the chance to play the bigger teams. To improve we need to learn the dominance and there is still a lot of work to be done for that.
Did you follow the Doha 2011 Asian Cup?
The last time India played in Doha (in 2011), I was a 17-year old boy and remember crying after our loss to Bahrain -- a match which I felt we could have won. It was an emotional moment for a boy who was in love with the national team and the other day in Bengaluru, it was a special moment when we qualified.
What next from here?
The job is not done yet. This is the first step which we have achieved because we will travel to UAE not just to participate. Rather, we need to make it to the next round for which, I reiterate, we need to work harder.
What do you attribute the unbeaten streak of the national team to?
The biggest character of this team stays that we never give up. If you look back, we had a bad run initially but since then we have been able to turn around and it has to be attributed to the mental strength of the team.The unity in the squad is commendable, it's like a group of brothers playing football together. That's the understanding which we have and it's very vital for us.
Within 2 years of making your international debut, you have earned the title of 'Mr. Dependable.' How much have you improved as a player?
The fans have been a huge support and I need to thank them for that.
But I feel it's still a long way for me to improve as a player. I still need to work harder. Obviously, I have improved my fitness immensely and whether I have improved as a player, maybe the Coach and the others can comment. All I know is that the road is long.
The defensive back four has played a major role in taking India to this level.
I think it's not just about the back four. If you look at the match against the Kyrgyz Republic, there was a moment when Eugene (Eugeneson Lyngdoh) tackled in our own box which otherwise could have enabled them to score. We also have Hali (Halicharan Narzary) running up and down the flanks in every match to help our side-backs.
Actually, it's collective work with one covering up for the other. The whole team does that, so it's not right to solely credit the back four for the defending.
What's special about the four?
It's the blind trust which we have amongst ourselves. Pritam (Kotal), Narayan (Das) and I have been playing together since our U-23 days and it's been quite a long time. Inadvertently the understanding has grown over the years, but for example, in a match, I ask anyone of the back four to turn, he will do it instantly without even thinking and I will reciprocate in the same manner if they tell me too.