AFC Asian Cup: Sandesh Jhingan seeks inspiration from Leicester City, Aizawl as India prepare for tournament

Sandesh Jhingan, India’s defensive mainstay, is seeking inspiration from Leicester City and Aizawl FC’s unlikely league triumphs ahead of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup.

Dilip Unnikrishnan May 01, 2018 08:00:06 IST
AFC Asian Cup: Sandesh Jhingan seeks inspiration from Leicester City, Aizawl as India prepare for tournament

Sandesh Jhingan, India’s defensive mainstay, is seeking inspiration from Leicester City and Aizawl FC’s unlikely league triumphs ahead of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup.

India qualified for their first AFC Asian Cup since 2011 after topping their group in the qualifiers. Stephen Constantine’s men were on a 13-match unbeaten streak going into the final game against the Kyrgyz Republic but the run came to an end with a 2-1 loss at Bishkek.

The 24-year-old defender acknowledged that India’s task is cut out at the 2019 tournament to be held in the UAE but believes that the team can punch above its weight.

AFC Asian Cup Sandesh Jhingan seeks inspiration from Leicester City Aizawl as India prepare for tournament

Sandesh Jhingan says India will look to go as far as possible in the AFC Asian Cup 2019. Image Courtesy: Twitter/@IndianFootball

“We want to do our best to qualify from the group and go as high as we can. If you don’t dream big, you can’t make it big. It is going to be tough – there’s no denying that, but there is no shortage of motivation. There are a lot of examples like Leicester winning the Premier League and Aizawl winning the I League for us to seek inspiration from.

“Teams like Japan, Australia are all big big teams but we’re not a small team now as well. We’ve proved again and again that we are a team which is capable of achieving big things. We’ve got to work hard like maniacs and just hope for the best,” Jhingan said.

Despite playing an important role in the Blue Tigers’ qualifying for the Asian Cup finals, the domestic season was less than fruitful for Jhingan and the Kerala Blasters.

Runners-up in 2016, the Kochi-based side had a sub-par season which was made worse by the sacking of coach Rene Meulensteen mid-way through the season with the team languishing in eighth position.

The arrival of former player-manager David James saw an improvement in performances but it wasn’t enough as the Blasters finished sixth. Their Super Cup run was cut short when NEROCA FC came down from two goals down to beat the Blasters 3-2.

Reflecting on their poor season, Jhingan said, “It was a disappointing season. I’m really disappointed that we couldn’t deliver as a team because I think that the potential and the quality that we had in the team, we deserved a trophy. But that’s football, you know, you win some and you lose some.

“Now we have the same coach (David James) who knows our players and he knows how it has been. So now we have got to really work hard and be in top strength and form for the next season”.

Chennaiyin FC and Bengaluru FC clashed in the final with the John Gregory-coached side emerging as champions. Apart from veterans like Sunil Chhetri and Jeje Lalpekhlua, youngsters like Udanta Singh, Nishu Kumar, Anirudh Thapa and Jerry Lalrinzuala played key roles in their teams’ season and Jhingan heaped praise on the next crop of Indian footballers.

“I’m really happy that all these players are coming up and they’re doing well, because the better the youth system, the better the young players we have and the better the future we’re going to have.

“I’m really happy with Lalruatthara, Jerry, Udanta and the seasons they have had. Thapa is a fine fine passer of the ball and the likes of Jerry, Nandakumar and Aashique performed well too. I’m really happy about how Indian football is evolving.”

Speaking on the sidelines of the Star Sports Select Fan Club screening of the Premier League match between Manchester United and Arsenal, Jhingan, a United fan, spoke about growing up with a brother who is a hard-core Arsenal fan.

“I’ve been supporting United since the fifth grade while my brother is an Arsenal fan. He is extremely superstitious and would always watch matches sitting in the same spot in front of the TV and wearing an Arsenal jersey, not that it helped them that much,” Jhingan quipped.

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