Indian football team midfielder Apuia gives thumbs up to AIFF’s plan for more international games

New Delhi:Indian football team midfielder Lalengmawia Ralte feels playing more international matches, as has been promised by the national federation, will improve understanding among the team-mates but can also lead to more injuries.

All India Football Federation (AIFF) President Kalyan Chaubey had recently said that the national team is expected to get 20-25 international matches at the end of the Asian Cup in January 2024 in Doha.

“It is the first time the Indian team will have so many matches in a year. It will help us teammates in coordinating better on the pitch as we usually play fewer matches with the national team as compared to our clubs,” the 22-year-old Ralte said.

“As football is a team game, staying together is important. For example, if I’m playing with Chhangte, I need to know where he likes to make runs and the place where he wants the ball. The more I play with him, the better our understanding will be,” he said in a release from the AIFF.

“We also need to be more focused than ever because there are more chances of getting injured when you’re playing so many matches. So, we need to take good care of ourselves.” The next seven months will be vital for the Indian team in preparation for the all-important Asian Cup. After the Hero Intercontinental Cup in Bhubaneswar (June 9-18) and SAFF Championship in Bengaluru (June 21 to July 4), the Blue Tigers will also participate in the King’s Cup in Thailand and Merdeka Cup in Malaysia later this year.

“The coach’s philosophy and style of play will change according to the need in every game. It’s not going to be an easy season, but I’m excited and really looking forward to it,” said Ralte, who is better known as Apuia by his team-mates.

For the Mizoram player, a second consecutive AFC Champions League campaign with Mumbai City later this year will also pit him against the best in the continent.

He is glad to have a number of his colleagues from the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup side who have graduated to the senior team alongside him, like Anwar Ali, Suresh Singh, Jeakson Singh and Rahim Ali.

“It’s always good to have players you know better in the team. It’s not easy to transition from the U-17s to the senior team.

“If there was no U-17 World Cup, there would be no Apuia. I wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity to play in the ISL and the senior national team as nobody would’ve heard about me,” he said.

Apuia has since come a long way. He won his first international silverware in 2021 — the SAFF Championship in Maldives, where India beat Nepal 3-0 in the final.

The Intercontinental Cup in Bhubaneswar next month, however, will be his first assignment with the Blue Tigers since then as, unfortunately, injuries ruled him out of action in the Asian Cup Qualifiers last year and, most recently, the Tri-Nation tournament in Imphal in March.

Now, back in the camp, the midfielder knows he will have to fight for his place in the starting eleven again.