The Bengaluru man talked about the game’s current condition in the country.
There is a renewed sense of hope in Indian football after the AFC Asian Cup. Despite crashing out from the group stages at the last minute, the blistering display against Thailand and positive display against UAE showed growth in performance-levels over the last decade.
While the Asian Cup showing has refueled the fan’s dream of watching the Blue Tigers play in the FIFA World Cup, it’s better to go with a more pragmatic stance like Sunil Chhetri. Many might be going gaga over a new era for the Indian game, but it’s better to keep our feet on the ground.
“People who are just fans and don’t know much about Indian football will always keep asking when we’ll qualify for the World Cup. But, for us who are there and know more, the right way is to test ourselves against the better teams of Asia,” Chhetri told Times of India in an exclusive interview recently.
Further reiterating his stance on which priorities India should look into before dreaming about the World Cup he said, “It’s very important. To analyze yourself as a team, to know exactly where you stand is very, very important. We should not just be happy with winning the SAFF Cup. The senior team should target teams who are 7-15 in Asia. Then only will we know our standards.”
There is also a mighty need to play better opposition in international friendly matches India participate in every year. Chhetri indicated how we should focus on arranging better friendly matches against the likes of Lebanon, Syria and even Australia to test how good they really are as a unit. “Unless we realistically figure in the first 12 of Asia and stay there, we will never knock the doors of a World Cup,” he asserted.
In order to have ambitions of outdoing the performance displayed by the Blue Tigers in the 2019 continental showpiece, we still have a long way to go in improving the grassroots training in our country. More emphasis has to be put on the junior teams, who need to receive better exposure against the biggest teams in Asia.
Chhetri is also impressed by the India U-16 national team’s performance recently and speaking about their impact he said, “Our U-16 boys are doing really well. It gives me immense hope. I hope if every batch that is coming after the U-16 is as good or better, then we are moving in the right direction. Bibiano (Fernandes) has done a great job with them.”
“They have done well against Japan and Iraq. Have you ever heard of India dominating those nations in football? They did that to win the game,” he added.
Chhetri also explained how the SAFF Cup should be treated as a level where the U-19 and U-23 boys should be given a chance to shine. He added that players who might not play for the senior team should be in contention to impress in the tournament. However, when talking about whether or not Indian football’s making enough progress, he remained diplomatic.
He said, “Definitely we have. Is it substantial and huge? No, it’s not. Let’s not fool ourselves. We have made some progress, but it’s not even enough to challenge the big teams in Asia.”
It’s important to echo a more grounded approach like Chhetri has been doing. While the Blue Tigers might have won over fans and earned new ones with their display, there’s still miles to go in this marathon of achieving World Cup qualification.