AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers

Steadily everyone is taking their places, says Sunil Chhetri on India’s future

Sattyik Sarkar

July 26 2022
Sunil Chhetri

Sahal Abdul Samad also talked about the greatness of his goal.

India won their second successive game in the AFC Asian Cup 2023 Qualifiers. The Blues defeated Afghanistan 2-1 to move one step forward to booking their place at the main event. Most of the action came in the dying moments when we saw all the goals. Sunil Chhetri opened the scoring for the home side. But the lead didn’t last long as the Lions of Khorasan equalized through Zubayr Amiri two minutes later. Sahal Abdul Samad kept his cool in stoppage time to score the winner off an Ashique Kuruniyan pass.

The two Indian goalscorers Sunil Chhetri and Sahal Abdul Samad interacted after the game. Here’s what they had to say.

Feeling in camp

Just after India conceded the goal, Sunil Chhetri was substituted. Perhaps the substitution came at the wrong moment. However, Sahal saved the day for the Blues. After the win, the skipper shared his initial feelings. He stated, “Almost thought we will share the points. Sahal kept his composure.

“The build-up was good for the last goal. It wasn’t easy. All the changes which were made paid dividends. It’s a very satisfying win. We thought we’ll almost share the points and then we got three points – which is very crucial in this group. I am really very happy with the performance,” the Indian captain added.

On current group of players

Sunil Chhetri completed 17 years in national colours today. The Bengaluru FC forward has seen many groups of players come and go during his time with the national team. The captain feels the current group is a very aware one and knows what its strengths and weaknesses are.

“I have been really blessed to play with a lot of groups. This one is a very aware one. It’s a group which knows exactly what its strengths and weaknesses are and works really hard. Slowly and steadily, everyone is taking their places. It’s really good to be in the midst of all the boys here. You can learn so much from so many of them. I’m happy for myself, the team and for the fans. It was indeed a very special day,” the 37-year-old commented.

Back-to-back qualifications

In 2019, India qualified for the AFC Asian Cup. They are 90 minutes away from another qualification. Sunil Chhetri spokes at length on the back-to-back qualifications. He explained, “We have a strong advantage now. We still have a game to play. We’ll probably need a point, but we’ll want to win the game.

“We haven’t seen the other results. The bare minimum target is to qualify for the Asian Cup so that we can go and rub our shoulders with the best in Asia. I’m not trying to be very harsh on ourselves, but we need to play every edition of the Asian Cup, so that we can assess how much we are improving and also get the opportunity to play the World Cup for Asian teams,” the Indian captain continued.

Saving India

Sunil Chhetri has scored in an Indian win on a consistent basis. The skipper however didn’t feel like taking the plaudits and praised the teamwork. Emphasizing the importance of everyone in the team, Chhetri said, “I’m blessed to be a part of the team which works really hard. It’s not me, it’s the whole team. Everyone chips in. You can say I pick the cherry at the end of the entire cake.

“I’m not trying to be immodest. I have a specific role which I try to do. Everyone has a specific role. We all gel in. We try to be in sync and become a better team. That’s the whole target. It’s a young side. All the places are still up for grabs. We are going to work really hard and be a strong team,” the Indian forward carried on.

On scoring the winning goal

It was Sahal Abdul Samad’s moment when he scored the decisive goal. He was asked about the importance of the goal in his career and if it had a special place. The Kerala Blasters midfielder answered, “It’s an amazing feeling. It’s always good to score goals and make the team win. It’s not just me, it’s the entire team. You could see that throughout the game. From the first minute, we never gave up. There’s the result. I’m happy for the team.”

“I think it’s one of the greatest because it’s in front of the fans, in Kolkata and for the national team. I’m really proud. I would like to thank Ashique for the assist,” the 25-year-old continued.

Coach’s instructions

Sahal came on at the very last moment and scored the winner. When asked what were the coach’s instructions, he replied, “Everything changed in a minute. When I was about to enter, we conceded a goal. For a moment, we kept our heads down. But, we never gave up. We stood out. We were fighting. At last, we got a goal. Thanks to the team. We all are happy now.”

Are spirits high?

Sahal also spoke on how such a victory can raise the spirits of the team.

“A win is always a wonderful thing for a team. Especially in this situation where we were leading by a goal, then conceded and scored again to win the game. It totally increases the team spirit,” the midfielder quipped.  

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