Defender Sandesh Jhingan expressed disappointment after missing three matches of 2022 World Cup qualifiers due to his Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injury suffered in November but expressed hope for current set of players to leave a mark in India’s football history.

India failed to pick up a single win from their five games, registering three draws, but Jhingan said that Igor Stimac’s side can bounce back from what has been an underwhelming qualifying campaign and will get better with time.

India lost the opener to Oman at home after a 1-2 defeat before holding Asian champions Qatar 0-0 in Doha to an away draw. But their chances of qualifying for the next round were dented severely after 1-1 draws against Bangladesh and Afghanistan before losing to Oman away 0-1. India’s best case scenario, if and when qualifiers resume, is direct entry into the next edition of AFC Asian Cup.

“Of course, I felt bad. Not able to take part on those two games [against Bangladesh and Afghanistan]. I was very pumped up before the qualifying round to be honest,” Jhingan said during a Facebook live session.

Coach Stimac had earlier lamented Jhingan’s absence, saying India would have not drawn against Bangladesh and Afghanistan had the centre-back been part of their campaign. But despite the setback of a poor World Cup qualifying campaign, Jhingan said the current Indian squad needs more time before they can show their potential.

“When the group came out, I felt this is our chance. I really took the responsibility that I got to make it happen, its all on me, no matter what – just to keep myself motivated. The Oman game, I don’t know how we lost it. I could have done better. We didn’t have the best of games. There are lot of questions behind it.”

Leading through a Sunil Chhetri goal in the 24th minute, India staved off second-half Omani pressure until substitute Rabia Alawi Al Mandhar produced two fine goals to give Oman the victory in Guwahati.

“I felt [personally] I didn’t have a great game. Maybe we had less game time, whatever you call it. It really put a dent on my heart because we deserved the three points and I could have done better to keep a clean sheet. We had a setback and then the Qatar game. We showed how good we were. I had it all planned and the group was all motivated but then when this [injury] happened, ah, that’s life. There’s a reason behind everything.

“..But in a positive way, the boys will learn from it. The real potential of the squad is still there to see and the potential is immense. The more we play together, not only Asia but the world will see how good this squad is, how we will write history and people will remember this batch for generations.”

Jhingan, who earlier opted to end his stay with Indian Super League club Kerala Blasters after a six-year association and is rumoured to sign for a foreign club, also said that unlike before, the pathway has opened up for the players to move abroad.

“I won’t say we don’t have the dream. The dream path is there, yes but certain laws restrict you from moving out. There’s so much involved and it becomes difficult. But a lot of the junior players now believe they can go abroad and ISL has made a difference with the exposure coming in. Going forward, I do feel, in the next 10-15 years, many Indians [will be] playing in Europe. The mentality now has changed a lot,” he said.

“When I was 14-15, some of my lads used to think, I’m going to Real Madrid at 19. Yes, you need to be optimistic about your dream, but you have to be realistic. But now the junior players realise there are certain steps [to achieving the dream]. With national team getting better, slowly the image is getting better in terms of football. They [junior players] have started to believe that we might have to start at the lower leagues but we can push up the ranks. Going forward, I do believe it’ll be a normal thing in the future to see Indian players playing abroad.”

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