Asian Cup: Five man army banks on ‘morale’ and ‘unity’

Sunil Chhetri Subaoto PaulYANGON: Has Indian Football changed in the last four years? How much?

Five stays the magic number! The present Indian squad in Yangon has just five players who were here last time when India went down to Myanmar by a solitary goal in the 2013 AFC Challenge Cup (Qualifiers) decider played on March 6, 2013 at the Yangon Training Centre.

The Five Man Army -- Subrata Paul, Sunil Chhetri, Jeje Lalpekhlua, CK Vineeth and Robin Singh – isn’t much willing to talk about the past. ‘It will never come back,’ they say in unison. ‘Every day is different.’

“There is some similarity between the two matches,” maintains Chhetri, the highest Indian goalscorer in International Football. “Even then we were playing to qualify for the Asian Cup and even now we are playing for the same cause,” he says at the Hotel lobby.

“The only difference as I see it is that this time the fate is still in our hands. We did not play very well in that game (in 2013) but this time we have six games to lay our claim for a berth in 2019,” he continues. “There are a lot many new Players, we have a new Coach and the morale is high.”

“Myanmar are a very good side at home. In my career I have learnt that you need to be at your best on that specific day and we need to do that.”

‘Spiderman’ Subrata Paul, stresses on the fact that the “faces have changed.”

“We have youth on our side. We have been getting results. We have trained hard for this match. We cannot afford any slip ups. I won’t say the faces have changed, I feel the face has changed,” Paul says in one breath.

Will the crowd be a factor? “That’s the beauty of home and away matches. You play in front of a hostile crowd as much as you play in front of your own fans. Personally, I have always been inspired while playing in front of a hostile crowd. Against Cambodia, we played in front of a 70,000 partisan crowd. It was a great experience for all,” he adds.

Striker Jeje Lalpekhlua, feels the “unity in the Team is its strength.”

“Unity is our biggest strength. There are so many new players who are young and they gel well. At the same time, we have seniors like Sunil-bhai (Chhetri) and Subrata-bhai (Paul) to guide us,” Lalpekhlua, the third-most ‘Senior’ in International Football in the current side after Paul and Chhetri informed.

“The crowd will be loud and they will get a vociferous support. But we need to focus more on ourselves,” he pronounced.

Sitting in a corner of the ‘Verandah’ in the Team Hotel, Striker Robin Singh opines that the “Team badly needs a good start” in the Asian Cup Qualifiers.

“We are improving with every day. We need to get off to a good start and we are focussing on that,” Singh who had scored his first International goal in Yangon in 2013 feels.

“They will be at home and it’s understandable they will have all the support. But we won’t be there alone on the field. Our job is to work hard and support each other on the field. If we are to overcome the obstacle, there is no other way,” he quips. “We need to put our best foot forward.”

Winger CK Vineeth recollects the 2013 AFC Challenge Cup (Qualifiers) as his first International tour with the Senior National Team.

“I am much experienced as a player at present. At that time (in 2013), I was a newcomer settling down into International Football. The experience of playing in Myanmar last time has helped me evolve tougher as a player,” he admits. “There is no reason why we can’t. We need to stick together and never lose our self-belief.”

“Look at our side right now,” he responds almost immediately. “It is about the blend I find unique. We are here for a cause and we will give our best.”

Post dinner, the squad get together to celebrate Md. Rafique’s birthday. The wishes stay genuine but the players, don’t give into to temptation. The Chocolate cake, sinfully rich in calories, isn’t to be consumed by the players. They felt it better to offer it to the support staff after applying it on Rafique’s cheeks.
By Nilanjan Datta,
AIFF Media Team