The 17th edition of the elite championship for the Asian continent, the Asian Cup, commenced yesterday (5th January 2019) in the land of enormous towers and fascinating tourist destinations, United Arab Emirates. The tournament kickstarted with the hosts playing against The Bahrain FA, who held the home team in a 1-1 draw after drawing the first blood from Al Romaihi’s precise tap-in at the 78th minute of the game. Along with the two strong sides, Group A consists India and Thailand to challenge them. The southern and southeastern nations are set to field their team today at the Al Nahyan Stadium, Abu Dhabi where both the teams shall be chasing to opening their points tally. Looking forward, let us take a look at the 5 players to watch out for from today’s clash :
Theerathon Bunmathon :
Theerathon Bunmathon, the sturdy and reliable left back for the Thailand national side has been recalled after being left out from the 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup squad. On being asked about how he feels after being called back to the squad, he reported to Goal, “I’m very happy to have the opportunity to be part of the team again. I met both the coach and the staff and all my teammates, of course, the national team is the greatest thing in my life. I hope to bring the experience with Vissel Kobe here to help the team as much as possible. And if possible I want to take the team further than the last 16.” Theerathon currently plies his trade for the J1 League side, Vissel Kobe, sharing the field with legends like Andres Iniesta, David Villa and Lucas Podolski after shifting from Muangthong United this year. Aum, as he is fondly called, has a total of 24 appearances to his name for the J1 based club. Bunmathon has had the honours of winning the Thai player of the year back in 2013 and was a part of the AFC Champions League Dream Team in the same year.
Sandesh Jhingan remains to be the commander for the men in blue as the Indian defence shall be tested real hard as the tournament progresses. With Anas to back him up and Pritam Kotal and Subhasish as the full backs, the 25-year-old robust defender believes that with compactness and their best performances, the Indian side is capable of doing wonders. It is firmly believed that the defensive response of the blue tigers is going to be very crucial throughout the tournament as the team is up against heavy attacking sides like the UAE, Bahrain and Thailand. For that, the Kerala Blasters’ centre-back needs to step up and lead the side. He has been previously awarded the emerging player of the year in the ISL back in 2014 which proves the potential he holds.
The 25-year-old skilful playmaker currently serves his duties for the Japanese League side Consadole Sapporo. He has played an important role in Sapporo’s fourth-place finish in the J1 league and has his name registered in the end-of-season best XI. Chanathip is considered the best talent in Southeast Asia and currently is regarded as one of the best prospects in the Asian continent. His key skillset includes incredible pace, commendable dribbling and retention of the ball as well as his passing abilities to add cherry on top of the cake. Considering the way the youngster is developing, he can be lethal to the opponents facing him.
The captain, leader, legend for the men in blue remains to be the most important player for the Indian National Team. Sunil Chhetri is the most experienced player in the current Indian squad and is the all-time top scorer for his nation. Currently playing for the ISL side, Bengaluru FC, he has been in his prime form with composure and has shown his class whenever required. He had his first appearance for the national team back in 2005 and since then he has a total of 104 International appearances having 65 goals to his name. With his experience and skillset, Chhetri is believed to take the responsibilities on his shoulder to make team India progress to the knockout stages of the AFC Asian Cup 2019.
Gurpreet Singh Sandhu
The reliable custodian in between the bars, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, currently playing for the ISL based franchise Bengaluru FC is one of the most reliable and important members of the Indian squad. Having a wide experience from being a part of the last Asian Cup finals in 2011 where India lost all the three group stage matches to playing a total of 22 matches for the national squad, Gurpreet has evolved as a shot-stopper. He feels very optimistic about the current Indian squad under Stephen Constantine who has the experience of playing against commendable oppositions like China and Jordan in the recent past and believes that the Indian side is capable of delivering much better results than what they had in their previous Asian Cup group stages. Gurpreet is known for his amusing shot-stopping abilities and is famous for the leadership qualities he beholds.
It remains to be seen what the two sleeping giants can unfold in the 17th edition of the Asian Cup as things warm-up in the deserted Gulf.