The Bengaluru man lavished praise on the young Indian Colts despite missing out on U-17 FIFA World Cup qualification.
With the 2019 AFC Asian Cup knocking on the door, Indian national team captain Sunil Chhetri had an interaction with FIFA.com as he revealed his views on his side’s chances in the tournament and the current situation of football in the country. The 34 year-old is the only constant from the the Blue Tigers team that last played the tournament in 2011 and he is looking forward to lead the new team during this edition.
However, improving the country’s footballing aspirations seems to be of higher importance for Chhetri as he didn’t quite talk about any sorts of causing potential upsets or trying to knock the continental giants out of the competition.
Nevertheless, he spoke with his usual tone of honesty and went back to the past talking about how he was disappointed that his country wasn’t a part of the competition last time around. “I was really dejected when we missed out on the last edition.”
“I think it is very, very important for a country like us to keep qualifying for this big tournament, because that tells you where you are and if you are doing well. It also gives you a chance to rub shoulders with the biggest teams in Asia. If you do well, other teams take notice of you.”
Despite the country has shown a lot of potential, it hasn’t actually being tested against the stronger teams in Asia apart from a couple of outings against Iran before the FIFA World Cup in Russia. Thus, featuring in the top 100 list of World Rankings of FIFA or Coca-Cola will not have much value unless the Blue Tigers play constantly against the big teams. “It’s very, very important for us to keep playing against the big giants- the UAEs, the Australias and the Korea Republics,” says Chhetri.
“It is one thing to do well against your neighbours and without demeaning any one of them, it’s a different thing when you go out and play the giants of Asia.”
Talking about the teams that India has drawn in the group stages of the Cup, the forward said, “Without putting ourselves down, when you’re India and you qualify for the Asian Cup any team that you face are going to be difficult. In UAE and Thailand we have two teams who are very, very technically gifted. I think even Bahrain are going to be very physical.”
“I’m just looking at it as one game at a time. I don’t think we will be thinking about the mathematics of the group from the moment go.”
Chhetri has been the leading light of the Indian football team since quite a time now and has been the all time top scorer of the country with 65 goals in 103 caps during his 13-year stint. Talking about his achievements, he said, “Not even in my wildest fantasies would I have thought I would play for my country 100 times.”
“This is something I’m really fortunate and privileged to have done and I don’t take it for granted because it’s something which probably every kid dreams of but I’m the chosen one, so I’m living a dream.”
Furthermore, the Bengaluru FC striker was very proud of the quality that the U16 team showed despite losing out on a U17 FIFA World Cup qualification after a narrow defeat to Korea Republic saying they are of ‘proper quality’. “When kids from the community, the state and the country do well, kids look up to that. It also creates a lovely pressure, a sweet pressure for everyone to work really, really hard.”
“Making sure the league does well, that all the youth development programmes do well. I think just all-round pressure is needed in our country because for sure we have the talent,” he added.