Chhetri hopes the Blue Tigers give a good account of themselves in upcoming international friendlies

Even though Indian football legend Sunil Chhetri will not be part of the national team for their upcoming friendlies against Oman (March 25) and the UAE (March 29) due to medical reasons, he is pleased to see the return of international football after a lengthy hiatus owing to the Covid-19 pandemic. The striker, who was the highest-scoring Indian in Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) 2020-21 with eight goals for Bengaluru FC, recently sat down for a candid chat with the All India Football Federation (AIFF).

He expressed his satisfaction with the level of the opposition teams that the Blue Tigers will be facing over the course of next few days. “To lose out on international football for an entire year was such a big disappointment. But these are unprecedented times and they aren’t in our control. So, we have little to complain about. That said – I am both excited and grateful about the two friendlies which the Blue Tigers will play this month – and against some quality opposition which only betters the anticipation. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to be a part of it,” Chhetri said.

The 36-year-old went on to explain why playing against the likes of Oman and the UAE will be beneficial for Indian football. “It pleases me more than I can tell. I’ve always been on about how we need to better ourselves in Asia and that can happen only when we come up against top opponents. Oman and the UAE most certainly fit that bill,” Chhetri said.

“When I first heard of the possible opponents, I was extremely excited even though it was just a possibility. I hope we, as a team, make the most of this chance, give a good account of ourselves and most importantly, learn from the experience,” he added.

Chhetri went on to laud AIFF and Football Sports Development Limited (FSDL) for their role in ensuring a safe return to footballing action through the Hero ISL in such testing times. “Like I said – these are unprecedented times, but despite the circumstances, the fact that we have managed to get so much football in, is commendable. We were in a bio-bubble for five months and trust me, it was difficult.

“You can only imagine how difficult it must have been to put together the Hero ISL, the Hero I-League and every other competition. There are countries where football has come to a complete standstill. So, to be able to keep it going is something we should all be grateful for,” he said.

The Indian legend also admitted that it was encouraging to see several youngsters grabbing their chances with both hands in Hero ISL 2020-21. “It’s definitely been a Hero ISL season for the youngsters. There were no illusions about how tough and competitive the season would be – and to see so many unheralded names step up and consistently perform well for their teams was very encouraging. What is critical though is that we don’t go around labelling the youngsters with tags that end up becoming burdens. There is a lot of promise and I am certain we will do well to harness it,” Chhetri opined.


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