AFC Asian Cup 2023-24: India Might Surprise Australia, Claims Former Captain Bhaichung Bhutia

As the AFC Asian Cup 2023 approaches, the world is anticipating a phenomenal performance from Australia once again. Meanwhile, former India captain, Bhaichung Bhutia has issued a warning that India could be a surprising challenge for the Socceroos this year

Indian Football Team Set To Face Australia In The AFC Asian Cup

The tag of favourites might be pinned on Australia, but former striker Bhaichung Bhutia insisted that India have the ammunition to surprise the world No. 25 Socceroos in their AFC Asian Cup group match in Qatar on Saturday. (IND Vs AUS Streaming).

India is clubbed with title contenders Australia, Uzbekistan and Syria in Group B.

“You never know. I will not be surprised if India gets a good result tomorrow, I mean we have the team to surprise them. You know, Australia is not the Australia of a decade ago. We also have made progress as a team," Bhutia told PTI on Friday.

"Yes, it will be a tough match, but it is not an impossible task (to get a good result) for this side against them,” said the former captain, who is in town for the Masterclass programme organised by Orchids School.

So, can India reach the Round of 16 in the tournament?

“First thing first, we need to tackle Australia. If we can get a good result against them, who knows,” said Bhutia.

However, Bhutia, who played more than 100 matches for the country between 1995 and 2011, said the absence of some key players like Ashique Kuruniyan, Jeakson Singh and Anwar Ali could just peg back the India side a bit.

Defender Ali, midfielder Jeakson and winger Kuruniyan are recovering from their respective injuries and have not travelled with the team.

“Yes, it may be a bit of a concern because these are experienced players. I think the absence of Kuruniyan will especially hurt India. He is a strong and versatile player, who has the speed and skill.

"He is a constant threat to the opposition. But that said we have other good players who can make an impact,” Bhutia added.

As ever, India will depend on their talismanic captain Sunil Chhetri to find the goals against some tough rivals in the event.

Bhutia admitted there could be a case of over-reliance but added that right now Chhetri is India’s best bet to net goals.

“He (Chhetri) is a wonderful player. The need of the hour is to score goals and it is soothing to know that we have a dependable player in that department. Every team needs someone to get those crucial strikes.

"Hopefully, we can provide some good assists to him and I am sure there will be a couple of chances to find the back of the net,” said the ‘Sikkimese Sniper’.

“Yeah, he is getting old and, perhaps, we will have to unearth a couple of more Chhetris very soon,” he said with a smile.

The 47-year-old lauded head coach Igor Stimac for keeping India a combat-ready outfit.

“He (Stimac) has proved to be a good coach. India had done well in the last couple of tournaments under him. He knows how to keep the players in high spirits during a match.

"I think we’ve had a good amount of preparation for this tournament despite those injuries that you were mentioning, and it’s now all about the right execution,” Bhutia opined.

Bhutia, a member of the sports ministry’s Mission Olympic Cell, said India’s strong effort in the Hangzhou Asian Games will have its reflection on the country’s outing in the Paris Games later this year.

“We are hoping to better our Tokyo (Olympics) medal tally in Paris. I think the commitment the sports ministry has shown to this mission Olympic programme…we've given support of every possible nature to the athletes.

“So, we definitely are expecting good results from Paris. Neeraj (Chopra) had given us gold in javelin, and who knows there could be a couple of more (gold medals). So, fingers crossed,” he concluded.