The Indian football team captain also opined that the Bengal Tigers have improved over time.

India begin their SAFF Championship campaign on October 4 against Bangladesh. The Blue Tigers are one of the favourites to win the regional tournament, which is taking place after a year’s hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ahead of the campaign opener against Bangladesh, Indian captain Sunil Chhetri spoke in a virtual pre-match press conference regarding the preparation and how they are feeling ahead of the match.

Preparation for tournament

In preparation for the SAFF Championship, the Indian football team played two friendlies against neighbours Nepal, winning and drawing one each.

“Speaking of the two games we played against Nepal recently, I feel we need to improve in lots of areas. Coach Stimac and the stuff has already conveyed that to us. We know we could’ve done a lot better in Nepal as players,” he began.

Competition in SAFF Championship

Sunil Chhetri was asked whether the competition at the SAFF Championship has increased since his previous appearance at the tournament.

“I wouldn’t be able to answer as I played in the tournament back in 2015. The team that went after that was U-23s. So, in the last five years, I wouldn’t be able to tell you the difference between any SAFF country,” the 37-year-old expressed.

“However, we have played Bangladesh and Nepal, two teams we are going to play and they have improved,” he opined.

How will the team react to favourites’ tag?

India are one of the favourites to win the SAFF Championship in this edition. There will be pressure on the Blue Tigers to deliver results. Speaking on the topic, Sunil Chhetri expressed that the team are not thinking about how far they will advance in the tournament.

“That’s a general sentiment outside. If you are playing for the country, you want to win every game. Sometimes you get hard opponents, sometimes you are playing at home and sometimes you are playing away. When we go into a tournament, we don’t think about whether we will reach the final and who will we play,” he quipped.

“No matter who you are as a team you can never think like that. You are thinking about Bangladesh and it will be a hard game. We have played Bangladesh twice and both the games have been difficult for us,” he continued.

Motivation to continue for 16 years

Sunil Chhetri has been a pillar of Indian football for 16 years and he was asked what has been his motivation to continue for so long.

“It (the motivation) is playing for the country. It is why I am here,” he revealed.

“When you are a youngster there are lots of things that you play for and slowly when you get older a lot of things diminish. Either you have done that or you’ve experienced it and now when I get a chance to represent my country, I take it seriously,” he concluded.

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