Asian Football Confederation General Secretary Dato Windsor John Sunday commended the Indian team for its impressive performance in the Asian Cup so far, saying that the country has made 'remarkable' progress in the game in recent years.
India secured a stunning 4-1 win over Thailand before going down 0-2 to hosts United Arab Emirates in a group match in which Sunil Chhetri and Co. had more clear chances than their opponents.
"India has performed commendably in the Asian Cup 2019 and the opening victory against Thailand, which was their first in 55 years in the competition's history, is testament to the development of Indian football and the continued dedication of the AIFF," Windsor said.
"Despite their narrow defeat against UAE, they showed great character and resilience to compete against one of the tournament's heavyweights on home soil and anyone who was there will feel India were a little unfortunate. I believe India can take great pride with their performances," he was quoted as saying in a statement released by All India Football Federation.
Asked if India has turned out to be a surprise package in the tournament, the AFC top official said, "India's performance may have come as a surprise for some, but at the AFC, we are well aware of the remarkable progress of football in the country over the last decade.
"The AFC's Vision and Mission underlines our commitment to provide tailor-made assistance for our Member Associations and as the world's second largest country, we have long recognised the potential of India. Over the years, we have continued to work closely with the AIFF to raise the standards of the sport through various President Initiatives and development programmes."
He said Indian football has shown clear signs of scaling new heights.
"These include the results of the U-16 team at the recently concluded AFC U-16 Championship Malaysia 2018, where they qualified for the quarter-finals for the first time since the 2002 edition, as well as the success of Bengaluru FC who have reached the AFC Cup final in 2016 and the Inter Zone final in 2017 and the Inter Zone semi-final in 2018," he said.
"We hope that the commendable display by the Indian team will continue to accelerate this paradigm shift."
Talismanic Indian striker Sunil Chhetri overtook Lionel Messi as the second highest goal scorer among active footballers in the world behind Cristiano Ronaldo.
Asked about this feat, Windsor said, "Sunil's record clearly exemplifies his desire and professionalism both on and off the pitch. He has been a proud ambassador of Indian football for club and country and now, with two goals in the UAE, he has proven his abilities to perform on the continent's ultimate stage.
"I am confident that this achievement will serve as an inspiration to young aspiring footballers in India and on the continent. With hard work, dedication and a commitment to excellence, Sunil is a fine example that nothing is impossible."