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AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers: "Sahal Abdul Samad's rise will make Indian football proud" - I M Vijayan

IM Vijayan. Image Courtesy: AIFF Media
IM Vijayan. Image Courtesy: AIFF Media
Ritam Basu

Legendary Indian striker I M Vijayan lauded the efforts of Sahal Abdul Samad, who scored the winning goal against Afghanistan to earn India a spot in the 2023 AFC Asian Cup.

Sahal came off the bench to score during injury time in India's 2-1 win over the Afghans in a third-round qualifier for the Asian Cup on Saturday (June 11) at Kolkata's Salt Lake Stadium.

Vijayan feels Sahal's winner will provide immense inspiration to the young followers of Indian football. The former striker, who hails from Kerala, said:

"Sahal is a source of pride for the younger generation of Indians and Malayalees. Sahal scored within seconds of entering the field at the most crucial moment. This is an example of a very good reflex action which is the most necessary thing in football. He'll rise in a way that will make Indian football proud."

Sahal's goal on Saturday was cheered on by more than 44,000 fans at the hallowed Salt Lake Stadium, where India are playing this tournament on home soil for the first time in more than two years. More spectators are expected to turn up for India's final match against Hong Kong tonight.

India opened their Group D campaign with a 2-0 win over Cambodia where Sunil Chhetri scored a brace. Chhetri also scored the first goal against Afghanistan. Vijayan believes that the national team skipper still has a lot to contribute despite being 37 years old. An optimistic Vijayan said:

"Sunil is a marvel. He is a personality whom every player should emulate. His goal in the match against Afghanistan was of excellent quality. All youngsters need to see and learn how easily Sunil exploits open chances. I laugh when the media asks about his retirement. With such a level of fitness and playing with such sincerity, he still has a lot to gain. As the Indian team coach said, he still has a lot of goals left to score. One of them could be from the World Cup."

Chhetri has so far scored 83 goals for his national team, only three behind Argentina captain Lionel Messi. He's currently placed third on the list of active international goal scorers. Vijayan, who played for India between 1992 and 2003 scored 29 goals.

India face Hong Kong in their final qualifying match tonight. Both teams are tied on six points. India need a victory to finish as group toppers. If that does not happen, the Blue Tigers will qualify for a second straight Asian Cup by virtue of being one of the top five second-placed teams in the six qualification groups across the continent.

Vijayan has also been impressed with defender Sandesh Jhingan's role in marshalling the backline. He concluded:

"The team has done very well in the last two matches, especially in defense. Sandesh's performance has been commendable. He's performing well after regaining his fitness level. His presence is an asset to the Indian team."

Edited by Samya Majumdar

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