Intercontinental Cup: U-23 players key to India's preparation for AFC Asian Cup, says Anas Edathodika

Ahead of the Intercontinental Cup, Indian defender Anas Edathodika praised the U-23 players called up to the senior camp and spoke about how they will impact India's preparations for the AFC Asian Cup to be held in the UAE next year.

India head coach Stephen Constantine, who also coaches the U-23 team, has handed call-ups to five players from the U-23 side which played in the AFC U-23 Championships qualifiers in Qatar in 2017. Six players from the U-23 side — Manvir Singh, Vishal Kaith, Jerry Lalrinzuala, Anirudh Thapa, Salam Ranjan Singh and Lalruatthara — have been called up to the national camp along with FC Pune City's Ashique Kuruniyan ahead of the Intercontinental Cup where India will face New Zealand, Chinese Taipei and Kenya.

 Intercontinental Cup: U-23 players key to Indias preparation for AFC Asian Cup, says Anas Edathodika

Jerry Lalrinzuala and Anirudh Thapa take part in a training session. Image courtesy: Twitter @IndianFootball

Anas, who has 10 caps to his name, believes that the younger players are mentally strong and have confidence that belies their age.

"To play against the top teams, you need to be mentally tough and I think that is why the coach has brought in young players to the squad. The U-23 squad played well against teams like Qatar. I wasn't expecting that level of performances from our players," Anas said.

At the AFC U-23 Championships qualifiers in Qatar, the Indian team beat Turkmenistan 3-1 which followed losses against Syria and Qatar. The side's performance against Qatar was particularly impressive with the hosts' striker Almoez Ali praising the Indian team's performance.

Anas echoed Ali's thoughts. "Our young players are speedy. When you look at players like Jerry, you think that you can dominate him but he's very quick and can get away from tackles and so can Aashique. Manvir might be young but he can make life difficult for defenders. The players that are coming in nowadays are small but they are quick. You think you can shoulder-barge them off the ball but it doesn't work like that," the Jamshedpur defender said.

Anas' words were reiterated by Jerry Lalrinzuala who said,"To defend against players from foreign countries is difficult but I take it as a challenge and enjoy it. I go into matches thinking that if they can win, then why can't we."

The 19-year-old defender, who played a key role in Chennaiyin FC's title-clinching season said, "I don't train differently for different matches. When I'm up against foreign players, the only thought on my mind is to prevent them from getting past me."

Ashique, who was a part of FC Pune City's run to the semi-finals of the Indian Super League last season, was elated with his selection to the national team.

"I'm happy to be here because playing for the senior team is a big thing. Reaching this stage itself is very difficult but the senior players have been very helpful. I've been working on my fitness because to play at this level, you need to be very fit. The coach is trying to get us to play against teams where our physical fitness will be tested so it is good for us," said the former Villarreal C player.

At the AFC Asian Cup, India have been grouped with hosts UAE, Thailand and Bahrain in a tricky group A as Constantine's men aim to make it to the knockout stages of the quadrennial event. However, Anas is confident of India's chances and believes that playing in tournaments like the Intercontinental Cup will aid the Blue Tigers' preparations.

"We are in a tough group and it won't be easy. But we are going to play in international matches to prepare exactly for that. The coach is also pushing to get better teams for us to play this year. These matches are crucial for us to gain experience and know what it is to play against top teams," Anas said.

Updated Date: May 23, 2018 07:39:15 IST