New Delhi: Indian football great Bhaichung Bhutia says the country can not just qualify for the knockouts but also finish among the top two in the group stage of the AFC Asian Cup next year.
India have been clubbed with Thailand, Bahrain and hosts UAE in Group A.
Two teams will qualify for the knockout stages with the four best third-placed teams from six groups also making the cut. "I am very happy with the group which we have drawn. I feel we have been extremely lucky as we didn't draw any Asian Superpower - Iran, Japan, Australia and the Korea Republic -- in our group.
"Every pot had six teams and from Pot A we avoided all the teams who have qualified for the 2018 World Cup," Bhutia said today. The only Indian footballer to have played over 100 international matches, Bhutia said India can make it to the round of 16 with a bit of luck.
"I feel that we can finish among the top two from our group and qualify to the Round of 16. I understand it's not that easy but it's also not impossible. With a fair deal of hard work and a bit of luck, we can achieve it," the former captain said.
Speaking about India's draw in comparison to the one in 2011, the last time the country participated in the tournament, he said, "In international football nothing is easy. But in comparison to the group in Doha 2011 where we were clubbed with the then World Cuppers Australia and the Korea Republic, this looks good, or should I say favourable.
"Not to forget that the other team in our group in 2011 was Bahrain, and they had played the World Cup play-offs from Asia too (for World Cup South Africa 2010)."
India were thrashed by their opponents in 2011 and returned home without a point. But this time around, things could be different. "Physically and mentally we need to prepare ourselves for our best and that always adds to the confidence. Perhaps this is the first-ever time when India are ranked second among the four teams in the group.
"Admit or deny, it's bound to have a very significant impact on the mentality of the players. Just putting in hard work won't always get you there. You need to have the self-belief and the vision along with it as it can do wonders. The attitude of 'we can do it' defines great teams.
"In such tournaments, mere putting in your 100 percent won't work. You need to put in that extra effort which can sail you through."