Indian Football team players during a practice session | ANI
Kolkata: After earning their fifth overall, second-consecutive appearance in the AFC Asian Cup, the Indian national team camp were all smiles but are not willing to bask in the glory of their achievement, insisting that the 'real work begins now'.
"The feeling in the whole team is unbelievable, and it is because of the manner we performed in each game. All the 3 games demanded a different approach, and we managed to do it. However, the real work begins now, as we aim to do better than the last time. The sky is the limit for these boys," Sandesh Jhingan averred.
"I feel good and happy, but not for myself -- I feel good and happy for the players, I feel good and happy for the people who have supported us throughout the past three years which has not been easy. I am very happy because of these wonderful people and supporters who cheered for us in Kolkata - all of that was really important to us. I appreciate it," Head Coach Igor Stimac added.
The Head Coach also certified the discipline, the aggression, and the attitude of the boys. "There was some tremendous work done in the past 7 weeks. The boys were aggressive when it was needed, and they were patient when required. They counter-attacked when it was needed, and did the middle press, and high press when it was needed. They kept rising up, never coming down after every single match," Stimac expressed.
Striker Ishan Pandita who scored his first International goal was not willing to part with the ball post-match. "It is an exceptional feeling to score your first goal for the country. I hope that it is the first of many. The ball will be my pillow, and this jersey will be my pillow cover," he smiled.
There was also another Blue Tiger who scored his first-ever international goal in the match against Hong Kong. "This is a feeling which I cannot describe," central defender Anwar Ali beamed, as his eyes turned moist. "A qualification to the Asian Cup, my first international goal, and it came in front of such a passionate crowd. I am speechless," he added.
His partner, and senior pro-Sandesh Jhingan labelled Anwar as a "great guy."
"We have known each other for many years. He is a very humble boy, and the mentality he has is unbelievable. Keep dreaming, keep pursuing the dream of playing football. I have massive respect for him," Sandesh uttered.
Liston Colaco stated that the "target has been achieved, and there are bigger targets to achieve."
"We have been aiming for this since the start of the group stage. We have achieved our target, and credit goes to the coach for being patient, and working with us on the training pitch. A back-to-back qualification is immensely significant for Indian Football. It's now time to work harder for bigger targets."
Captain Sunil Chhetri added: "To seal the top spot in the group in such style, and in front of all these fans is a special feeling. It was so wonderful to see Manvir score, and so wonderful to see Ishan score, and great to see Anwar score at the start. It is always about the team and it is so nice to see."
"We need to make sure we prepare well, and have the biggest pool to choose from. We need to make sure that we go in the best possible way, and give a good account of ourselves in the Asian Cup."