India striker Jeje Lalpekhlua is upbeat about the development of football in India and believes that the ‘sleeping giant is now awake and ever evolving’.
Dubbed as a sleeping giant by former FIFA president Joseph Blatter in 2006, India has shown rapid strides in the right direction. Post India’s heart-warming performance at the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019, where the national team missed qualifying to the next round by a whisker, Jeje said that the team has shown that it belongs to the stage.
“The sleeping giant is now awake. We have shown to all in Asia that we belong on the same page as them,” ‘Mizo Sniper’ Jeje said.
India crashed out of the group stages in the Asian Cup after going down 0-1 to Bahrain. The team raised hopes of qualifying for the knockouts for the first time after a 4-1 win over Thailand but it all went wrong for them in the final group game.
“Our performance in the AFC Asian Cup has improved tenfold, and it can only get better from here as the young players have been given the needed experience,” Jeje said.
India qualified for the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 after an eight-year hiatus. Their last appearance was in 2011 in Doha where the Blue Tigers had succumbed to hard-fought losses in all three games in the group stage.
“Our biggest achievement was the win against Thailand,” Jeje, who had scored India’s 4th goal on the night, added.
“We gave our 100 per cent in every match. But we could have done better. Not qualifying out of the group stages is a setback for us. It shows that anything can happen in football,” he said.
“It was a very difficult match against Bahrain and it was very unfortunate the way we lost. However, that is life in football, and the important part stays the experience earned by the young players that will give dividends in the future,” he added.
With an average age of 24, India was the second youngest team in the AFC Asian Cup. Jeje felt the next target for this young and hungry team is another qualification to the Asian Cup.