Former India captain Bhaichung Bhutia believes India are lucky to have not drawn any Asian ‘superpower’ in the group stage of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup.

India have been drawn alongside UAE, Bahrain and Thailand in group A of the competition.

“I am very happy with the group which we have drawn,” Bhutia was quoted as saying by AIFF media. “I feel we have been extremely lucky as we didn’t draw any Asian Superpower – Iran, Japan, Australia and the Korea Republic – in our group.

“Every pot had six teams and from Pot A we avoided all the teams who have qualified for the 2018 World Cup,” he added.

While Bhutia insisted that there is no easy group in international football. He drew from his experience of playing in the 2011 edition where India were clubbed with World Cuppers Australia and Korea Republic.

“By 2011 standards, this looks good, or should I say favourable,” said Bhutia. “Not to forget that the other team in our group in 2011 was Bahrain, and they had played the World Cup play-offs from Asia too (for World Cup South Africa 2010),” the 41-year-old added.

‘It’s not that easy but it’s also not impossible’

Bhutia is confident that the team can qualify for the knockouts with a bit of luck.

“I feel that we can finish among the top two from our group and qualify to the Round of 16. I understand it’s not that easy but it’s also not impossible. With a fair deal of hard work and a bit of luck, we can achieve it.

“Physically and mentally we need to prepare ourselves for our best and that always adds to the confidence. Perhaps this is the first-ever time when India are ranked 2nd among the four teams in the group. Admit or deny, it’s bound to have a very significant impact on the mentality of the players. I reiterate you need to approach it with caution. But it’s possible,” Bhutia said.

According to Bhutia, the Asian Cup is the biggest tournament that India can play in. He feels regular participation in the event would bode well for the side moving forward.

“It’s very important for Indian Football to qualify to the AFC Asian Cup on a regular basis,” he said. “It is the biggest tournament for us – the Continental Championship. That’s the platform where we get to play against the best Asian players who play all over the world. Such tournaments come as a learning curve and is a huge publicity for Indian Football.”