Defender Sandesh Jhingan feels India’s international friendly against Puerto Rico will be a vital cog in the team’s preparation for the second round of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup football qualifiers.
“We’ve known about the match for some time. We’ve been preparing hard for it. It is an important game for us and it will be a good contest,” Jhingan told reporters before the national team’s training session at Mumbai’s Andheri Sports Complex, also the venue of the friendly.
“We hope to improve with whatever we learn from this game because it will be part of the building block for the Asian Cup qualifiers which kick-off next year.
“We hope to learn from this game — from higher-ranked opponents — and put on a good show as well,” said Jhingan when asked about the challenge of facing Puerto Rico.
India await the draw which will decide their opponents for the third round of the Asian Cup qualifiers. The draw will be conducted after the second stage of the play-off round, which will be completed on October 11.
The Blue Tigers reached the third round by beating Laos in the first stage of the play-off round with an aggregate score of 7-1 over two matches; a 1-0 away win on June 2, followed by a 6-1 home win on June 7.
Between the two-legged tie with Laos and the match against Puerto Rico on September 3, India played a friendly against Bhutan on August 13. Jhingan feels India’s qualification chances improve with every match the team plays.
“Obviously every game helps you. Whether it is Bhutan or Iran, each has its significance. The squad has been improving with every training session and every match,” he said.
The third round of the qualifiers will commence from March 2017 until March 2018. India will be one of the 24 teams contesting in the third round of qualification with 12 teams progressing to the final tournament, which will be hosted by the United Arab Emirates in 2019.