Chhetri: Next step for India is to keep the ball and be a little more brave

India skipper Sunil Chhetri believes the next step for the national team is to keep the ball and pass better in order to get better. Chhetri, who scored a brace in India’s 2-0 win over Bangladesh in their 2022 FIFA World Cup and 2023 AFC Asian Cup qualifier at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium in Doha earlier this week, spoke to the media on Wednesday and discussed a lot of things at length. When asked what he thought the next step for the Blue Tigers should be in order to improve, he said: “To be a little bit move brave with the ball. I think we understand defending, we understand diet, everyone in the team is aware of how to take care of their bodies and everyone is really physically fit.

“…A lot of people in the country didn’t like the fact that we couldn’t keep the ball [in a 1-0 defeat to Qatar prior to the Bangladesh game] and it is healthy criticism. We have got to be braver to keep the ball. It will come with more matches though …It’s not about trying to keep 30-40 passes and try to play like Barcelona. Not many teams in the world can do it, but [India need to be] a little bit more brave, [stitch] 4-5 passes and make an organised move.”   

Chhetri’s goals against Bangladesh helped Igor Stimac’s team move up to third in Group E, ahead of Afghanistan, who they now play on June 15 in what will be their last game of the second round of qualifiers. When asked would he consider it a successful Round 2 campaign if India were to beat Afghanistan on Tuesday, he replied: “I wouldn’t be able to say that. Because it reminds me what we did against Bangladesh at home [1-1 draw], what we did against Afghanistan away [1-1 draw], it reminds me that we couldn’t hold down Oman seven-eight minutes more in one of the best games we played [Oman scored twice in last eight minutes to win 2-1]. Even if we win against Afghanistan, the fact is we blew hot and cold in these qualifiers. That’s what bothers me and the whole team.”   

On Tuesday, the Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) made it mandatory for all teams not to field more than four foreign players at any point of time. Chhetri appeared in agreement with the move while giving tips on how to become a successful striker. “From next season, there are four foreigners which will probably give a little bit more time to few of the other young strikers, which is good for them. Playing more matches and trying to work really, really hard are the only two mantras …After me there will be better players. That’s the way evolution works. If we keep getting players like me, we will be where we are. I want to see my country doing better,” he said.

The 36-year-old revealed how he keeps himself mentally fit before explaining why it’s much easier to stay fit than play football. “Think about what you can do, stop worrying about what others are doing, what others are thinking and that they have an opinion …This I learnt early in my life. Why I strongly say that I will always keep myself fit because fitness doesn’t require brain, compared to playing football, which requires a lot of brain,” he said.

Chhetri, who now has scored 74 international goals (two more than Lionel Messi), also made light of people trying to draw parallels between him and the Argentine great. "I am not annoyed with this comparison but my take on it is this: there is no comparison whatsoever with Messi or any player in that category. There are thousands of players better than me. People who understand football, they know it. I am proud of scoring 74 goals for my country. Till the last match I play, I will give my best," he said.

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