Exclusive: SAFF Cup outing a great experience for young Indian team - Jeje Lalpekhlua
The Indian football team started the SAFF Cup 2018 as overwhelming favourites and although head coach Stephen Constantine decided to rest a number of experienced players, there was hardly any doubt that they would clinch the title for the eighth time in the history of the competition. However, despite being dominant in the tournament, the young side was defeated by Maldives 2-1 in the summit clash.
The loss was certainly a hard pill to swallow for the Indian side but experienced striker Jeje Lalpekhlua believes that the experience will be a big bonus for the youngsters. The SAFF Cup squad had just one player who was not a U-23 talent and Jeje said that the players should learn from their mistakes.
“It was a great learning experience for a young Indian side at the SAFF Cup this time round. It was unfortunate we lost the final but this will only make them wiser for the challenges that lie ahead. They need to keep working hard and not lose heart,” Jeje told Hindustan Times in an exclusive interview.
India had a smooth run in the competition and under the captaincy of defender Subhasish Bose – young midfielder Anirudh Thapa wore the armband in one of the games as well – they defeated both Sri Lanka and Maldives quite easily in the group stages.
The semi-final was no different as they made short work of Pakistan but in the final, they were completely outplayed by Maldives. With the AFC Asian Cup taking place in January next year, Jeje felt there were a number of players who impressed at the SAFF Cup and have a good chance of making the final squad.
“There were quite a few mature performances by some really young players in pressure situations. It was also pleasing to see young Anirudh Thapa captaining the national team at just 20 years of age,”
“He along with a lot of other players has used this opportunity to create a good impression on the coach ahead of the crucial AFC Asian Cup in January next year,” the striker added.
One of the most prominent performances for India at the SAFF Cup was that of striker Manvir Singh. The 22-year old, who plays for FC Goa in the Indian Super League (ISL), ended the tournament as the top-scorer with three goals and Jeje was all praise for the young footballer who guided India to the final.
“Manvir (Singh) is a great talent and an able goal-scorer, as we all saw in the SAFF Cup. I would like to congratulate him for being the top goal-scorer in the competition and he has a very bright future.”
Gearing up for new season
Jeje is currently training with Chennaiyin FC ahead of the new ISL season and with his team winning the competition last year, the 27-year striker will be looking to guide the side to consecutive title wins.
“The preparations have been fantastic. We are raring to go and we look forward to a challenging title defence. We are motivated to become the first team to retain the ISL title,” he said.