Sports Football 17 Feb 2017 India must not take ...

India must not take Asian Cup draw lightly: Sunil Chhetri

DECCAN CHRONICLE. | TANAY APTE
Published Feb 17, 2017, 3:58 pm IST
Updated Feb 17, 2017, 3:58 pm IST
Bengaluru FC and India captain Sunil Chhetri has warned the national team against complacency for the upcoming Asian Cup qualifiers.
Sunil Chhetri has scored 51 goals for India. (Photo: AFP)
 Sunil Chhetri has scored 51 goals for India. (Photo: AFP)

Mumbai: Without a win their last five matches, Bengaluru FC are going through somewhat of a bumpy ride right now. The defending champions are fifth in the I-League standings and drew 1-1 in their last game against this season’s surprise package Aizawl FC.

Skipper Sunil Chhetri got on the scoresheet in that game and in doing so became the highest Indian goalscorer in NFL/I-League history going past Bhaichung Bhutia’s record of 89 goals. However, he played down the achievement and expressed disappointment in failing to get the win.

“I missed a penalty after scoring the record-breaking goal and that cost us two points,” said Chhetri. “In moments like these, whatever you have done in the past does not count for much. In football, you’re as good as your last game.”

His total of 90 goals however, is dwarfed by the records of foreign imports like Odafa Okolie and Ranti Martins who have hit more than 150 each. Chhetri believes that it is due to a lack of game time that Indian strikers have a poor strike rate.

“The worst part over here is that apart from Bhaichung, Jeje (Lalpekhlua) and me, you don’t see many Indian strikers playing day in day out. You have to play games to score goals and right now, that is not happening.”

“In all honesty, I hope someone breaks my record. That would mean that he is scoring for the national team also. That’s good for the country,” he added.

After reaching the AFC Cup final last year, Bengaluru FC became the toast of the country and were installed as favourites to retain their I-League crown this season. But not everything seems to have gone according to the plan.

“We just haven’t scored that many goals. It is unbelievable the kind of chances we have missed,” bemoaned Chhetri. “The other teams have been extremely clinical against us. We are doing everything else the right way but we must start converting these chances or it will hurt us.”

India have been drawn alongside Myanmar, Kyrgyzstan and Macau in the qualifying stages of the AFC Asian Cup 2019 and while some would term this as a relatively easy group, Chhetri is taking nothing for granted.

“It would be a huge mistake if we considered this as a ‘favourable’ draw. We have always been handed tough draws in the past so that is why people will assume this time it will be easier. But that is not the case,” he said.

“Myanmar outplayed us and beat us 1-0 the last time we faced them. Kyrgyzstan are doing really well and we don’t even know anything about Macau,” he added.

The Indian captain believes all the players who get called up for the Asian Cup qualifiers will have to be at peak fitness to give India every chance of getting through the group.

“Whoever the gaffer (National team coach Stephen Constantine) selects for the qualifiers, I hope they report to the national camp in the best shape possible. Especially in our case and that of the Mohun Bagan players, we have AFC Cup commitments so we will be playing a match every 3-4 days. I just hope no one gets injured because we need our full strength team at Myanmar.”

With the proposed merger of the I-League and the Indian Super League (ISL) still under a cloud, Chhetri admits there is some amount of concern among the players.

“It is difficult for us. All the players have to come together and be involved,” said the diminutive forward. “Whatever the AIFF decide in collaboration with the ISL and the I-League is not in our hands. But if we come together and stand as one, that will make a difference. At the end, everything is because of the game and the players.”

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