Facing the Blue Tigers won't be easy for other teams: Sunil Chhetri
The countdown to the AFC Asian Cup 2019 is almost over. On January 6, the Blue Tigers will begin their campaign against Thailand at Abu Dhabi, in what will mark only their fourth appearance in the continent's biggest footballing event. The tournament will be one of the toughest challenges the Indian football team have faced in recent memory.
Sunil Chhetri and Co. will have to prove their mettle against some of the best teams in Asia. Awaiting India in Group A will be Thailand, hosts UAE and Bahrain - all tough teams. The impending challenge, however, isn't fazing Chhetri. The talismanic striker has let out a war cry of sorts and warned the opponents that the Blue Tigers won't be pushovers. In a recent interview with the All India Football Federation (AIFF), Chhetri said, "I can assure you that it won't be an easy job for other teams to face us. We are a team who hate to lose, and we have proven it in recent times. We are working as per the plan."
The 34-year-old will be the most senior campaigner in a very youthful Indian side and is the only member of the current squad with AFC Asian Cup experience, having played in the 2011 edition. Goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, then only a teenager, was also part of the 23-member squad back in 2011, but was the reserve goalkeeper and didn't get any game time.
Chhetri claimed that the magnitude of the occasion won't get to the young team and everyone is eager to prove themselves on the big stage. "All of us are super excited and thrilled right now. Apart from me and Gurpreet, it's a first-time experience for the rest. Everyone is ready to grab this opportunity," he said.
However, the Bengaluru FC man also maintained that the team isn't looking too far ahead and the focus is only on the first match against Thailand as of now. "At the moment, our sole focus is on our opening fixture – the game against Thailand. We are not looking anything beyond that. Yeah, there are matches against UAE and Bahrain lined up but we will think about them only when they come. At the moment we know that Thailand will be a very tough opponent and we are concentrating only on them."
Chhetri is currently India's top scorer, having netted 65 goals in 104 appearances. The upcoming tournament will give the striker the opportunity to reach yet another milestone and equal, or even surpass, the number of international appearances made by the iconic Bhaichung Bhutia (107). Asked about his feelings about the impending record, Chhetri said, "It feels good when I get a record under my name. But I don't keep track of records. After 10 seconds, I just forget it and move on. I never take any pressure of chasing any record. I never ever dreamt that I would play more than 100 games for India or score 60-odd goals.”