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Look forward to being part of the new golden era of Indian football: Sahal Abdul Samad

Sahal Abdul Samad (shirt no. 18) celebrates with his teammates after netting the injury-time winner against Afghanistan. Image: AIFF Media
Sahal Abdul Samad (shirt no. 18) celebrates with his teammates after netting the injury-time winner against Afghanistan. Image: AIFF Media

A historic second successive qualification for the AFC Asian Cup has made Sahal Abdul Samad confident that the Indian men's football team has ushered in a "new golden era".

The midfielder has been a vital cog in the Indian team as they won all three of their final-round qualifying matches at Kolkata's Salt Lake Stadium between June 8 and June 14. Sahal, 25, said:

"I'm still young and I'm really looking forward to being a part of Indian football's golden era. I'm really happy with the way we've been approaching the matches."

India defeated Cambodia and Afghanistan before thrashing Hong Kong 4-0 on their road to the Asian Cup, where they'll aim to overcome the group-stage hurdle.

Apart from captain Sunil Chhetri, Manvir Singh, Ishan Pandita and Anwar Ali also scored for the Blue Tigers against Hong Kong on Tuesday (June 14). Defender Anwar, who resumed his footballing career in August 2021 after a two-year hiatus due to a rare heart disease, bagged his maiden goal for the senior national team in only his sixth appearance.

Anwar, 21, who was part of the Indian squad for the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup, explained:

"I am very happy scoring my first goal for the country. It was a team game and the credit goes to everyone involved."
Special goal, special performance, special day for Anwar Ali ๐Ÿ˜Ž#INDHKG โš”๏ธ #ACQ2023 ๐Ÿ† #BackTheBlue ๐Ÿ’™ #BlueTigers ๐Ÿฏ #IndianFootball โšฝ https://t.co/qRTKnL3TES

The Asian Cup is scheduled for 2023 and Sahal feels the upcoming extended domestic season in Indian football will help them prepare well for the continent's showpiece event. The Kerala Blasters FC star opined:

"As players, we all need game time. The longer the season is, the better a player gets. That gets you into the rhythm."

From the 2022-23 season onwards, the Indian football calendar will be expanded to nine months, starting off with the Durand Cup in August, followed by the Indian Super League (ISL) and I-League beginning in October, and culminating with the Super Cup in May 2023.

Former midfielder Ishfaq Ahmed, who is now Kerala Blasters FC's assistant coach, views the rise of youngsters at the international level as one of the biggest takeaways from the qualifying campaign.

.@KeralaBlasters' assistant coach @ishuberk hails the @IndianFootball team's spirit after the #BlueTigers finished their #ACQ2023 ๐Ÿ† campaign with three wins out of three! ๐Ÿ™Œ๐ŸผFull podcast ๐Ÿ‘‡linktr.ee/indiansuperleaโ€ฆ#BackTheBlue ๐Ÿ’™ #IndianFootball โšฝ#LetsFootballLive https://t.co/4ZFXg5bXmf

Ishfaq said on a Let's Football Live Twitter Space hosted by ISL:

"When you see the likes of Jeakson (Singh), Akash (Mishra) and Roshan (Singh) stepping up their game after the team management backed them to start ahead of other experienced players, it shows how the youngsters have now formed the core of the national team. Even Sunil (Chhetri) was jumping in the dugout once Ishan (Pandita) scored the final goal against Hong Kong. This shows the team spirit this lot currently has."

Also Read: It will be great to play the AFC Asian Cup in front of fans at home: Sunil Chhetri

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Edited by Samya Majumdar
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