AFC ASIAN CUP: Revenge mission as India face Bahrain in crunch clash
Sharjah, January 13, 2019: Eight years ago on that fateful day of January 14, 2011 India had lost 5-2 to Bahrain in the 2011 AFC Asian Cup in Qatar.
Circa 2019 and as India get set to face Bahrain (on the same day!) they stand on the cusp of qualification for the Round of 16 of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup!
If they do achieve that feat then Sunil Chhetri’s team would etch their name in India’s football folklore.
Chhetri — the second-highest goal scorer in international football among active players — had scored India’s second goal against Bahrain in 2011.
The India skipper — now a veteran — would be itching to score against Bahrain on Monday.
“It doesn’t matter who scores as long as we score. It’s a team game. The awareness and interest in football has certainly grown in India. Everyone who is associated with football is responsible for it. But I also want to say that it’s a very small jump which we have taken. We have to keep our heads down and keep working hard,” said Chhetri.
“It was an extremely difficult group back then. We had Australia, South Korea and Bahrain in the group. The only positive, apart from the fact that we played our hearts out was that we scored three goals,” he recalled about the 2011 campaign.
“The one distinct thing I remember was scoring. Renedy’s great dribbling first, and then his fierce shot from 35 yards hit the bar, and dropped. Later on, in the replays, we saw that the ball had gone in. But it wasn’t given. Off Renedy’s rebound, Abhishek Yadav hit the bar too, and as it fell to me, I headed it in,” reminisced Chettri.
“We haven’t achieved anything substantial yet. What I want to achieve is to reach the top 10 in Asia and rub shoulders with the best. For that, we have to improve a lot. The first step starts with a result against Bahrain tomorrow,” he added.
Keeping aside the second-place finish in 1964, this is arguably a memorable campaign for India.
Goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and Chettri are the only two members of this team to have played in 2011.
Gurpreet was on the bench in 2011 thanks to the presence of a certain Subrata ‘Spiderman’ Paul in goal.
“I remember everyone was very calm the before the Bahrain game. We believed that we could get a result from that game. We even managed to score a couple of goals. But unfortunately, we ended up losing,” said Sandhu.
“Eight years down the line we are back in the Asian Cup playing Bahrain again. Things are different, the teams are different. But we are in a better situation,” he added.
As Chhetri and India gave it their all against the best in Asia the youngsters of now had then dreamed of greater things to come.
“I remember I had tears in my eyes that day, and made one of those crazy promises that you make as a kid – I’m going to play for India one day and bring glory. But here I am today, ready to play against them tomorrow,” said central defender Sandesh Jhingan.
“It’s hard to believe, sometimes. Even if God came down and told me to write down my future eight years back, I would not have believed that I would be here, and facing Bahrain on this very day,” he added.
Defender Subhasish Bose, who broke into the India squad six months back, was a youngster when Chettri and co. played in 2011. He had yearned to avenge India’s loss on that fateful night.
“I was watching the Bahrain game with my dad. We were both disappointed on losing the match, but now we have the chance to get our revenge for that defeat,” said Bose.
India play Bahrain in Group A of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup. The game will kick-off at 9.30 pm (IST) and will be telecast live on Star Sports 2, 3 and live-streamed on Jio TV.
Also Read: Tricky but still very possible! A look at India’s Knockout round chances
Also Read: We need to win against Bahrain: Constantine
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