AFC Asian Cup 2019: New generation of Indian players more knowledgeable about fitness, says assistant coach S Venkatesh

India look a completely different unit from the one that took part in the Asian Cup eight years ago. The Blue Tigers are no pushovers and have forced opponents to look at them as a serious team.

Kaushal Shukla January 09, 2019 14:29:32 IST
AFC Asian Cup 2019: New generation of Indian players more knowledgeable about fitness, says assistant coach S Venkatesh
  • India look a completely different unit from the one that took part in the Asian Cup eight years ago.

  • Indian assistant coach S Venkatesh puts the national team's improvement down to the new generation of players who have a deep knowledge of fitness.

  • Indian midfielder Pronay Halder said that the team is brimming with confidence and will go into the game against hosts UAE with an aim to win.

Abu Dhabi: The dust is just settling on India's monumental victory over Thailand in the opening game of their AFC Asian Cup campaign, but the tournament's nature is such that the next test is in your face just as you get back your breath.

India face hosts United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Thursday, knowing another historic victory would make them the first Indian team to reach the knockout stage of the Asian Cup.

AFC Asian Cup 2019 New generation of Indian players more knowledgeable about fitness says assistant coach S Venkatesh

The Indian football team takes part in a practice session ahead of the their match against UAE. AIFF

On paper, India are no match to their illustrious hosts but the team's recent results against China, Oman and Thailand have meant the team is relishing the prospect of taking on the UAE in their own backyard. This was unthinkable a few weeks ago, but momentum in football is a strange thing.

India look a completely different unit from the one that took part in the Asian Cup eight years ago. The Blue Tigers are no pushovers and have forced opponents to look at them as a serious team.

Stephen Constantine's assistant Shanmugam Venkatesh, who was a player during the Anglo-Cypriot coach's first stint as India manager, puts the national team's improvement down to the new generation of players who have a deep knowledge of fitness, training and a mentality to compete against superior sides.

"Earlier, the mentality was different. Now due to the ISL, the players are getting competitive matches. Earlier there was only the I-League. Now the players are getting international matches from the U-16 age group and that gives the players more confidence to play at this level," Venkatesh told reporters on the sidelines of India's training session in Abu Dhabi ahead of the game against UAE.

The former midfielder felt the players no longer need to be looked after with regards to maintaining physical fitness levels as they understand and practice the right things without needing to be pushed.

"Nowadays, the players have tremendous knowledge outside the pitch. They know how to prepare, what diet to follow and how to recover. The players have knowledge about these things and are doing it on their own. I think the credit for this goes to the senior players like Sunil Chhetri and Jeje (Lalpekhlua). They follow all the necessary things and it influences the others," Venkatesh revealed.

"During my time, players needed help from physios and other staff members, but now the players have a great deal of knowledge about these things. Now when we have some time for rest, I can see most of the players hit the gym. They are aware of the demands of modern-day football. Previously this was not the case," he recalled.

Reflecting on the win against Thailand, Venkatesh played down claims of the result being a one-off. He felt the victory was a result of astute planning and seamless execution.

"That win was not a fluke. We were not lucky. In the first few minutes, the coach had instructed the players to sit back and read the game. We had a plan and worked hard on the execution. In the end, the players did the job to perfection," the 40-year-old stated.

We are more confident than the past: Pronay Halder

India's midfield general Pronay Halder has cemented his place in the side with some solid performances for the national team in the last few months. Against Thailand, Halder was a menacing influence in the middle of the park and disrupted Thailand's play.

Against UAE, who are expected to hand India a more physical challenge, Halder's role will be crucial. However, the ATK midfielder said that the team is brimming with confidence and will go into the game against the hosts with an aim to win.

"We are now more confident. We played some big teams like China, Jordan and Thailand in the last game. So now we are more confident, but we have a lot to improve," the 25-year-old told the media.

Analysing the strengths of the UAE team, Halder singled out the hosts' attacking combination as the biggest threat to India.

"UAE is a good team. Their movement is excellent and the strikers' combination is pretty good. So we need to keep focus in every single moment if we are to have a successful game against them," he suggested.

India currently sit top of Group A standings and will face UAE in their second game on 10 January at Abu Dhabi's Zayed Sports City stadium, the venue which recently hosted Real Madrid and Al Ain in the FIFA Club World Cup final.

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