‘Re­lieved’ In­dia seal Asian Cup re­turn

Oman Daily Observer - - FRONT PAGE -

Ben­galuru BEN­GALURU: Cap­tain Su­nil Ch­hetri ex­pressed joy and re­lief after In­dia sealed their place at the 2019 Asian Cup, un­der­lin­ing foot­ball’s ris­ing for­tunes in the coun­try.

In­dia, bet­ter known for their suc­cess­ful cricket team, beat Macau 4-1 in Ben­galuru on Wed­nes­day to guar­an­tee their spot at the tour­na­ment in the United Arab Emi­rates fol­low­ing four straight wins in Group A.

The early qual­i­fi­ca­tion, with two games to go in the fi­nal round, comes as In­dia host the Un­der-17 World Cup and fol­lows the in­creas­ing suc­cess of the Indian Su­per League com­pe­ti­tion.

In­dia, ranked 107th, have only played the Asian Cup three times, in 1964, 1984 and 2011, and striker Ch­hetri said he was still haunted by their fail­ure to qual­ify for the last edi­tion in 2015.

“I was there when we missed out in 2015 and that still hurts me,” said Ch­hetri, 33, who scored In­dia’s sec­ond goal.

“This is the tour­na­ment we play for. We get to rub our shoul­ders against the best in Asia which we don’t get many times,” he added.

Ch­hetri also tweeted: “Earned our right to bat­tle against Asia’s best... Happy, proud, re­lieved and more.”

Coach Stephen Con­stan­tine said the team would now tar­get fin­ish­ing first in their group by gain­ing at least a draw in their next game against Myanmar.

“If not the best, this Indian team is surely one of the best Indian teams in his­tory and the credit goes to all,” said the English­man, ac­cord­ing to the Asian Foot­ball Confederation web­site.

“Start­ing from the play­ers to the sup­port­ing staff, it’s the re­sult of ev­ery­one’s ded­i­ca­tion and hard work.”

Mid­fielder Rowllin Borges opened the scor­ing in the 28th minute but In­dia were rocked when Nicholas Mario de Almeida Tor­rao equalised for min­nows Macau nine min­utes later.

But Ch­hetri scored in the 70th minute be­fore Lam Ka-seng’s own goal and Jeje Lalpekhlua’s in­jury strike sealed the win.

In­dia have re­mained un­beaten since los­ing back-to-back World Cup qual­i­fiers in March 2016, win­ning 11 of their last 12 games.

Oman and Pales­tine also qual­i­fied for 2019 on Wed­nes­day, join­ing the hosts UAE, Aus­tralia, China, Ja­pan, South Korea, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Ara­bia, Syria, Qatar, Thai­land and Uzbek­istan.

Nine more spots are still up for grabs in what will be the first 24team edi­tion of the Asian Cup, which pre­vi­ously fea­tured 16 coun­tries.

— AFP

Indian cap­tain Su­nil Ch­hetri (sec­ond right) cel­e­brates his team’s 4-1 vic­tory dur­ing the 2019 AFC-Asian Cup qual­i­fy­ing match against Macau held at the Kan­teer­ava Sta­dium in on Wed­nes­day.

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