In what turned out to be a sensational start to their campaign, the Indian football team sent their fans into delirium after kickstarting the 2019 Asian Cup with an emphatic 4-1 win over Thailand on 6th January.
Despite a noticeable difference in their rankings, Thailand was expected to pose a threat to the 'Blue Tigers'. But, riding on the back of an all-round display, the Sunil Chhetri brigade produced one of their first win in the competition since 1964.
"We've finally got respect for Indian football, we've woken the sleeping giant. It was dead and buried four years ago," an elated Stephen Constantine, Indian football coach, said after the game.
If their win against Thailand left the fans back home wanting for more, the fact that Indian captain, who scored a brace in the opening match, surpassed Lionel Messi to become the second-most prolific scorer in a national football team, further gave us a reason to celebrate some more.
For a man who has netted 67 goals for India since his first national cap in 2005, Chhetri's legend continues to grow as he goes past opposition defenders, finding those tiny gaps in their defence before unleashing that killer strike past the goalkeeper.
His leadership skills and consistency in front of goal is what has made one of India's most cherished sportsperson. But, his stardom isn't just restricted to India.January 7, 2019
As it turns out, the Indian football captain is respected and loved by football fans outside India as he is in his home country. Ahead of India's crucial encounter against the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on 10th January, a viral video has once again brought Chhetri's popularity in a foreign land to the fore.
The video shows the Indian skipper obliging a UAE fan for a brief Q&A following their triumph in the Asian Cup opener. Labelling him as the "best player in India", the female fan asked Chhetri about his career before putting him in a spot by asking him "who's going to win between Emirates and India?". Being a sport, Chhetri cunningly turned the tables by asking the fan to predict the winner instead.January 8, 2019
Finding herself in a bit of a dilemma, the fan, too, played safe before predicting a 1-1 draw to suffice both the team. Saving the best for the last, the female fan decided to dedicate a song for Chhetri ahead of their second game in the competition.
To everyone's surprise, the UAE fan ended up singing 'Saare Jahan Se Achha' before Chhetri joined her in some of the verses. The video has elated Indian and UAE fans alike, once again, highlighting that our love for football knows no boundaries.
While Chhetri was considerate of the fan in the video, he will not be so welcoming of the opposing side when his team locks horns with UAE in their second Asian Cup game later today.
Following their opening win against Thailand, Chhetri's men will face a much sterner test against UAE who are currently ranked 18 places higher than India in the FIFA chart.
When it comes to the head-to-head battle, UAE, again, holds a clear edge over India. In the 11 games they've played so far, UAE have claimed eight wins, while India have only two to show for themselves as one game ended in a draw.
On the other hand, India can also take some inspiration from 113th-ranked Bahrain who managed to hold the hosts UAE to a 1-1 in their opening match.
Though it's a tad too early to predict, if India manages to get the better of UAE, it will be their first back-to-back wins in the Asian Cup history - something that will surely get their fans back home in a celebratory mood.