Need a minimum of four weeks to prepare for Asian Cup: Anirudh Thapa | Football News - Hindustan Times

Need a minimum of four weeks to prepare for Asian Cup: Anirudh Thapa

By, Kolkata
Jul 04, 2023 08:12 AM IST

This is the best India team in a SAFF Championship, said the India midfielder ahead of his third final

Anirudh Thapa is not sure of his place in the Asian Cup squad next January but what he is sure about is the time India will need to get ready for the continent’s biggest men’s football event. “A minimum of four weeks,” he said. That is how long it would take to make the shift from Indian Super League (ISL) to the national team, said the India midfielder before his third SAFF Championship final, this time against invitees Kuwait in Bengaluru on Tuesday.

File Photo of Anirudh Thapa(Twitter)
File Photo of Anirudh Thapa(Twitter)

ISL has foreign players in “crucial places” and “every time we come to a camp, we need to tell ourselves that here no foreigner will ask for the ball.” Many India players also have different responsibilities at clubs and the national team, he said. “So, if we are to produce what the coach (Igor Stimac) wants, we need time.”

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Thapa agreed with goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu that training together for over six weeks contributed to India winning six and drawing two of their last eight games, with seven clean sheets. “For the first time, I saw an Arab team wasting time,” he said, referring to the semi-final against Lebanon which India won 4-2 in the tie-breaker after open play ended goalless.

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This was the best India team in the SAFF competition Thapa has been part of. “In terms of the opponents we faced and because of the way we performed against Lebanon and Kuwait.”

Thapa said he felt stronger now and credited that to “Professor”. That is what strength and conditioning coach Luka Radman, who worked with the Croatia team which finished third in the 1998 World Cup and the country’s basketball team which won silver in the 1992 Olympics, is called. “When he is in the gym, he does the exercises he asks us to do. It can get embarrassing if we don’t what a man almost 60 can.” Radman is 62.

In four years under Radman, Thapa said he has become stronger. “Now I can fight back.” That India has, literally, with three red cards in four games. The group league game against Kuwait, which ended 1-1, led to defensive lynchpin Sandesh Jhingan (toting up two yellow cards) and striker Rahim Ali (straight red card) being suspended. Both are available for the final, but after his second red card in as many games Stimac is not.

Are India getting used to playing without Stimac on the bench? Thapa bookended his answer with soft laughs in the Zoom call from Bengaluru but said, given Stimac’s experience, playing without him would be a disadvantage.

The “fight” though is here to stay. “With the Asian Cup coming, we just want to win games. We also want to build the game and not just play long balls. We are done with sitting back. If you don’t show from the first minute that we are not here to get hit, we won’t do well. If you are hitting us, we will also hit you.”

Thapa, 25, said he first noticed this shift in attitude in the final round of the Asian Cup qualifiers in Kolkata in June 2022.

As an 18-year-old box-to-box midfielder signed from All India Football Federation’s Elite Academy, Thapa was sent by Chennaiyin FC to FC Metz in Ligue 1 for a training stint. Moving to Mohun Bagan on a five-year deal, said to be worth 18 crore including transfer fees, runs counter to the idea of testing himself in a tougher league but Thapa justified that by saying “ISL too is growing”.

Not that Mohun Bagan will be without challenges. “They play to win. If a player is doing well, they will want him in the team. They won’t see if there is another player already in his position. So, I will be challenged to keep my place in a team that is the champion of India,” he said.

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    Dhiman Sarkar is based in Kolkata and has been a sport journalist for over three decades. He writes mainly on football.

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