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Should have taken our chances against UAE: Anirudh Thapa on AFC Asian Cup 2019 campaign

Anirudh Thapa, the youngest member of the Indian football team for the AFC Asian Cup 2019, talks about the campaign, what went wrong for the Blue Tigers and coach Stephen Constantine’s exit.

football Updated: Jan 17, 2019 18:00 IST
Sayan Ghosh
Sayan Ghosh
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Anirudh Thapa,AFC Asian Cup 2019,Indian football team
Anirudh Thapa (L) marks United Arab Emirates' midfielder Ismail Al Hamadi.(AFP)

The AFC Asian Cup 2019 campaign of the Indian football team was a rollercoaster ride for both the fans and the players alike. From the jubilation of a historic win over Thailand in the first game to missing out on a berth in the knockout stages because of an injury time penalty, the Blue Tigers went through a range of emotions in the span of just eight days.

While most footballers of the team were playing their first ever international tournament, Anirudh Thapa had the distinction of being the youngest of the lot. The youngster is certainly not over the disappointment that followed India’s ouster from the tournament, but the 21-year-old has already identified the places where their strategies went wrong.

“In the match against UAE, we got a couple of clear chances in the first twenty minutes and the match would have been over if we scored. But, we were unlucky to miss all the opportunities and that resulted in some pressure. In the last match (against Bahrain), we went with an extremely defensive approach and that did not work out well for us,” Thapa told Hindustan Times in an exclusive interview.

READ: As a senior player I should have done something - Sunil Chhetri

India started their campaign with an impressive 4-1 win over Thailand and it was an extra special moment for Thapa as he scored his maiden international goal with a cheeky finish. However, the momentum was severely hampered in the second game as they succumbed to a 2-0 loss to hosts UAE.

With a Round of 16 spot on the line, India faced Bahrain and the Blue Tigers needed just a point to qualify. However, the extra defensive approach from the Blue Tigers proved to be their bane as the opposition strikers were able to find space inside their box and although India maintained their shape for the majority of the game, a late penalty for Bahrain proved to be the deciding factor in the match.

“We were defending the whole time and we were not able to play our natural game. Our main target was to press them high but because of our defensive approach, we were not able to achieve our goal,”

“It was a crucial match for both the teams and they came all out at us. With the strikers finding spaces in our box, it was tough for us to execute our plans and that proved to be our downfall,” he explained.

Right after the match, the Indian football team was handed another shock as head coach Stephen Constantine decided to step down from his post. The players were informed of the decision just after the game against Bahrain but Thapa revealed that the result had no role to play in the decision.

READ: Stephen Constantine resigns after India’s AFC Asian Cup exit

“We came to know of his decision after the game. He said that he is resigning and it was not because we lost. He told us that even if we won, he would have resigned after the tournament anyway,” he said.

With the 2026 World Cup on the horizon where eight AFC countries will be afforded qualification, India will have to bounce back quickly from this defeat and for the young Anirudh Thapa, playing at the AFC Asian Cup was a dream come true and he is now looking to use that experience to develop his game.

“The biggest thing that I learnt in this campaign is that we cannot give up till the last minute. A game can change in one single move. Also, the opponents we faced in this tournament like UAE and Bahrain were quite impressive and this experience will surely help me in developing my game for the future,” he said.

First Published: Jan 17, 2019 18:00 IST