India was famously dubbed as football's 'sleeping giant' way back in 2006 by the former FIFA President Sepp Blatter. And now, after India’s heart-warming performance in the AFC Asian Cup in UAE, the Blue Tigers' striker Jeje Lalpekhlua believes the “sleeping giant is now awake and ever evolving.”
Speaking to AIFF's official website for the first time since India's exit from the Asian Cup, Jeje said, "The sleeping giant is now awake. We have shown to all in Asia that we belong on the same page as them. Our performance in the AFC Asian Cup has improved tenfold, and it can only get better from here as the young players have been given the needed experience.”
The 28-year-old then looked back at the tournament and picked up the team's biggest achievement from the group stages as he said, "Our biggest achievement was the win against Thailand. We gave our 100% in every match. But we could have done better. Not qualifying out of the group stages is a setback for us. It shows that anything can happen in Football."
Revealing how mentally tiring the game against Bahrain was, Jeje stated, "It was a very difficult match against Bahrain and it was very unfortunate the way we lost. However, that is life in football, and the important part stays the experience earned by the young players that will give dividends in the future."
India's team at the Asian Cup was the second youngest squad in the tournament with an average age of 24 and Jeje believes this team is hungry enough to qualify for the continental tournament once again.
He said as he concluded, "We have to make the qualification to the AFC Asian Cup a regular feature in our calendars. Now we need to focus to do well in the World Cup Qualifiers, followed by yet again qualifying for the Asian Cup. The most important lesson that we have learnt is that Indian football can go only upwards from here towards a brighter future.”