Kolkata: India striker Jeje Lalpekhlua and right-back Pritam Kotal on Thursday said qualifying for the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup 2019 in the UAE is the main goal now while expressing happiness over India’s best ranking of 101 in nearly two decades.
“We have played well in the last six, seven eight matches. We need to keep playing well and we cannot rest on our laurels now. Qualifying for the Asian Cup is the main goal and it won’t be easy,” Lalpekhlua told IANS moments after India jumped 31 places from 132 to 101 in FIFA rankings for the month of April.
India’s highest ranking achieved so far has been 94 which was attained in February 1996, while India were ranked 99 in November 1993 and 100 in October 1993, December 1993 and April 1996.
“The qualifiers won’t be easy. All the teams (in our group) are quite strong. If we can qualify for the Asian Cup, it will be a big boost for us. We have played two matches (friendly against Cambodia, and one Group A match against Myanmar) and played well. Now at every practice session, we have to put in that extra yard,” the Mizoram born Mohun Bagan marksman Jeje said.
Lauding coach Stephen Constantine under whom India achieved the feat, Lalpekhlua said the Briton has been a huge influence on the side.
“Stephen has been a huge influence. He has held the side together and is a great motivation.”
Kotal, who also plays for Bagan, said India now have only one aim — to make the Asian Cup.
“We are now firmly training our eyes on that Asian Cup spot. It’s a great feeling to be ranked 101. But our focus is Asia Cup and nothing else at the moment.”
India will play Lebanon in a friendly at home on June 7 before taking on the Kyrgyz Republic possibly in Bengaluru on June 13 in their next Asian Cup qualifier.
Besides Myanmar and the Kyrgyz Republic, Macau are the other side in India’s group. Two teams qualify from six groups to join the already qualified 12 teams in the Asian Cup. The tournament will be a 24-team affair.
India have played in the Asian Cup finals in 1964, 1984 and 2011. Sunil Chhetri netted a hattrick in 2008 to help India qualify in 2011, their last tryst with Asia’s highest continental competition.