Asian Cup 2019: "This is like World Cup, we hope to make it to the Round Of 16," says India's assistant coach Shanmugham Venkatesh
It’s been a few surreal days if you're an Indian football fan. The national team is back among the elite bunch in Asian football, playing the AFC Asian Cup 2019 and unlike in the past, they have kick-started their campaign with a thumping 4-1 win over Thailand, a team that is regarded as the fastest improving side's in the continent.
While the team is basking in the glory of the historic win and is eager to build on it as they eye a spot in the Round Of 16, there's one man in the support staff for whom the whole Asian Cup routine seems to have come a full circle.
Assistant to head coach Stephen Constantine, Shanmugam Venkatesh was one of the key members of the Indian side that travelled to Qatar for the 2011 Asian Cup, ending India's three-decade-long hiatus. But unlike like this time, the 2011 campaign was anything but successful.
Grouped alongside heavyweights Australia, South Korea and Bahrain, the Indians were mere spectators and were made to return home after the group stages after heavy losses in each of their matches.
So a win at this competition means a bit more to Venkatesh than to others.
"It's a historic moment for us. I am happy to be a part of it. Happy that I am finally on the winning side," he says after one of India's training session here in Abu Dhabi.
Questions comparing the two Indian sides is unavoidable for Venkatesh, but the former India midfielder is courteous enough to give his version of what sets the two side's apart.
"There's a massive difference between the two teams," he says. "The boys here are very careful with what they do and how they go about their work. It's very pleasing to see that boys are very careful and serious about the job at hand. Be it their diet or training, or any other off the field activity, the boys are very careful. What pleases me more is whenever they have off time, you can see most of them hitting the gym, and that's really pleasing."
Having solved the Thailand puzzle with ease, a bigger and much stiffer challenge awaits India in their next group game.
They take on hosts the UAE, a team that's tipped to go the distance in the competition. But Venky, as he's loving called, isn't fazed by the challenge that awaits them on January 10.
"They are a strong team. It'll be a very difficult match for us," he says. "The players are confident, I won't say they're overconfident. But there's a belief that they can do well. And we are working on that. They are a physical side, that's what you get when you play a West Asian team. But we are ready for the challenge."
So what's the one thing that Venkatesh, the assistant coach of the Indian team expects the most from his boys going into a game as big as the one against UAE?
"Nothing great. I want them to stick to the plan and more importantly, I want to enjoy every moment they spend on the pitch. This is like the World Cup for us. Now the target is to qualify for the next round."
The message is simple and clear, well isn't that the case with most of the things Venky does?