New Delhi, Jan 6 (IANS) The date January 6, 2019 will always remain etched in the history books for the Blue Tigers’ superlative performance against Thailand in their opening clash of the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 as the Indian side registered a memorable 4-1 victory. Exactly a year later, two of the young architects of that majestic triumph — Ashique Kuruniyan and Anirudh Thapa — recollected the day.
Ashique was a livewire in attack throughout the game and Thapa scored the third goal for India, which he termed as being even more precious than the Kohinoor diamond.
“Two days before the match, the coach told me that I would start upfront. Their right-back was a fast guy and coach wanted me to disrupt him. I was carried away even hours before the kick-off and was still in awe when we reached the stadium,” Kuruniyan said recalling the day.
On the other hand, Thapa was quoted as saying by aiff.com: “I still feel the goosebumps. In the team meeting, when the coach showed us the video and discussed the game plan, I even pinched myself. Yes, I would start for India in Asian Cup. We had faced China and Oman in friendlies but the chance of playing in the Asian Cup is something else. Just unimaginable. The night before I couldn’t sleep properly.”
When asked what did Sunil Chhetri say a day before in the dining hall, Kuruniyan said: “Absolutely, how can I forget? As the dinner got over, he, in his signature voice, rattled it out. It was so motivating as he had said — It’s not about only yourself or this team, every single Indian across the world prays for us — let’s win it for them.”
“I felt he was speaking to me. Probably, every one of us felt the same,” he added.
Kuruniyan further said: “I tried to keep myself calm and prayed to the Almighty to stay focused. After breakfast, I took a nap and offered a prayer before lunch. I just stayed away from my phone and spoke to my parents before heading to the stadium. That was the only call I made that day until we came back to the hotel.”
Explaining about the match, Thapa said: “But I still remember how Thailand reacted after conceding and even went on to score. The half-time break came at the right moment for us.”
“That was probably the best 45 minutes of football that we had played until then. Every pass was met with the right person, each movement was anticipated by other teammates perfectly — what else could you have planned? Your layoff on Udanta’s delivery from the right flank and Sunil bhai’s sublime finish — we just took off from there.”
Thapa had found the back of the net in the 68th minute of the match to expand India’s lead to 2-1 and commenting on his goal, he said he won’t trade the goal for even the famous Kohinoor diamond.
“I wouldn’t even trade the goal for the Kohinoor diamond! It’s so precious for me and it’ll always be there at the top of the ladder. Everyone started celebrating and it was finally when I looked up to the scoreboard that I realized that yes, it was me who did something (smiles).”