AIFF Player of the Year Jeje Lalpekhlua has said that the Indian team has its eyes fixed on qualifying for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup. The 26-year-old forward from Mizoram also feels the influx of young, fresh talent has lifted the quality of Indian football and also keeps the seniors on their feet.
India climbed 31 places to reach 101 --- their highest ranking since 1996. The team is also on one of their best ever runs, winning 11 out of 13 competitive matches, including the ongoing seven-match streak, scoring 31 goals.
“We have done well to get to 101 and our next goal is to break into the top 100. We cannot look too much ahead or comment on a golden age. Our immediate target is to qualify for the AFC Asian Cup 2019 in UAE and if we do that, it will be a good start,” Lalpekhlua told the Times of India.
“A total of 24 teams qualify for the AFC Asian Cup in the UAE and we want to be there. I think we have a good chance to qualify if we continue playing well.”
Since the defeat in the World Cup qualifier against Turkmenistan in March last year, India have not lost a single game - home or away. “Some new faces are being tried and tested in the squad. Lots of players have made their debut in the last one or two years so I am hopeful all of them will do well when called upon," Lalpekhlua said.
"If one player had to stand out I would say Jerry Lalrinzuala, as he is only 18 years of age and has done well in the Indian Super League and been called up for the national team. He also won the Emerging Player award of the Indian Super League. I think if he is focused and fit, he has a good career ahead of him," he added.
Speaking about himself, Lalpekhlua said, "I am still 25, so I have a long way ahead of me. Fresh faces competing for places is always good and keeps us working harder. I don't feel any pressure with new faces coming in. This is part and parcel of football.
“The Indian Super League is very good as it has given players and football good exposure. However, we could do much better if we have a longer league as against the current shorter format.”