The Sunday Guardian - - Sports - AYUSHMAAN PANDEY NEW DELHI

Foot­ball cap­tain Su­nil Ch­hetri be­lieves the road to In­dia’s cam­paign in AFC Asian Cup will not be easy de­spite not hav­ing dif­fi­cult op­po­nents like Aus­tralia, Ja­pan, Korea, Iran or Iraq in their group even as he con­ceded that teams like Bahrain, Thailand and UAE will pose a tough chal­lenge to them.

The In­dian team will com­pete in Group A along­side hosts United Arab Emi­rates (UAE), Thailand and Bahrain and none of the Asian giants—Aus­tralia, Ja­pan, Korea, Iraq , Iran—are present in the group.

“If you say it can be eas­ier be­cause we are do­ing well that can be a valid point. But we can’t say it is UAE, Thailand and Bahrain, and so it is eas­ier. Only be­cause we are not fac­ing Aus­tralia and South Korea, peo­ple think it’s go­ing to be easy. It is not,” Ch­hetri said on the side­lines of an event or­gan­ised by KIA mo­tors on Sun­day.

The 33-year- old skip­per dis­agreed that In­dia are fac­ing weaker sides com­pared to 2011, say­ing teams like Thailand is the “most im­proved side” as they went on beat­ing Aus­tralia in their own soil.

“You must keep in mind that the UAE are the host team and play­ing the home side is al­ways dif­fi­cult. Thailand are a highly im­proved team and have good prepa­ra­tions. Even the teams like Aus­tralia and Ja­pan are find­ing it hard to beat Thailand,” he said.

“Last time we played a 2-2 draw against Thailand six-seven years back and they are com­pet­ing with the best in the Asia. They are a very good side. The more im­por­tant thing for us is how we are go­ing to pre­pare,” Ch­hetri said.

Con­cerned about In­dia’s poor show out­side the coun­try, the Ben­galuru FC cap­tain said the team needs to bet­ter its away record and play more in­ter­na­tional matches against good op­po­nents if it is to do well in the up­com­ing tour­na­ment.

“I am re­ally wor­ried about win­ning games out­side our coun­try. Our home record has al­ways been very good. Away, we have re­ally strug­gled. I hope we get more away games so that we can test our­selves, and also against bet­ter op­po­nents,” he said.

In­dia will kick-start their Asian Cup cam­paign against Thailand on 6 Jan­uary. UAE will be host­ing the 5 Jan­uary to 1 Fe­bru­ary event next year. The last edi­tion of the mega event saw In­dia crash­ing out of the group stage with­out win­ning a sin­gle match.

Ch­hetri said the team re­quire the best of prepa­ra­tions to make it count de­spite hav­ing an im­pres­sive run in the qual­i­fy­ing round of Asian Cup dur­ing which In­dia had a 13-match un­beaten run. He added that he doesn’t pay much heed to the ranking sys­tem as it’s not a re­flec­tion of how good a team is. In­dia’s re­cent per­for­mance im­proved its tally in the FIFA rank­ings, plac­ing them at 97 af­ter a long time.

“I am re­ally happy with the per­for­mance we have put but the stage we are talk­ing about is dif­fer­ent. I don’t think it mat­ters what we did be­fore and I have never taken ranking se­ri­ously. I am happy that we are in­side 100 but the way ranking works is very tricky. I don’t give too much im­por­tance to it,” he said.

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