Heading into the Asian Cup, India was considered to be the dark horse of the tournament. While many were quick to write the Blue Tigers off, optimistic fans believed that India could make it through to the knockout stages of the tournament. It was only India's fourth ever Asian Cup campaign and their first since 2011, so the anxiety and excitement amongst the fans were well justified. They would, however, hope that they do better in the competition than they did in their last two campaigns with their last win in the AFC Asian Cup coming in 1964.
Constantine's men headed into the campaign with a mix of results in the friendlies before the tournament. While they lost 2-1 to Jordan, they did manage draws against the likes of China and Oman, two teams that have a much more developing system compared to India's. But being the second highest ranked football team, India could afford to be confident going into the tournament.
India ran rampant against Thailand on the opening day of the AFC Asian Cup after an unconvincing first half which ended 1-1. With the talismanic striker, Sunil Chhetri scoring two, the young magician, Anirudh Thapa scoring one and the Mizo sniper, Jeje Lalpekhlua scoring the final goal, India cruised to victory as they hope to carry this momentum forward to the next game against hosts, United Arab Emirates.
Here are the five biggest takeaways from one of the most monumental games for the Blue Tigers
#1 Sunil Chhetri proves why he should be captaining the side
The rift between Stephen Constantine and Sunil Chhetri has been made public for quite some time now. Constantine even removed Chhetri from captaincy and named Sandesh Jhingan as the new captain of the side. However, for the game against Thailand, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu was chosen as the captain. This passing on of captaincy from one player to another baffles all the Indian fans as a majority of them believe that Chhetri should be named the captain.
While Gurpreet Singh Sandhu is undoubtedly experienced and one of the more vocal players, always guiding his back line, Sunil Chhetri has the most experience in the team. He has personified everything the Indian football team stands for and scored important goals time and again for the country. With 67 goals for India, Sunil Chhetri is the second highest international goalscorer amongst active players. So it is no surprise that whenever India need a goal, the entire country will all turn to one man - the legendary no.11 and boy, does he deliver. After scoring the opening goal for India with a stunning penalty, Chhetri gave India the lead following a good run from Udanta Singh on the wing.
It was evident how badly the Bengaluru FC forward wanted to win this game and proceed to the knockout stages of the tournament. Vocal, aggressive and zealous as always, Chhetri led the team from the front - guiding the players around him, shouting at them when they made mistakes and congratulating the entire team along with some pep talk once they won the game. His enthusiasm and vigour are second to none. This shows that he is the captain India needs in this big tournament. Constantine should let go of the little feud and name Sunil Chhetri as the captain in the games coming ahead. It is only beneficial for the team that they are led by the man who has given his life to bringing the team to the big stage.