I am enjoying my football, can't say when I'll retire: India captain Sunil Chhetri ahead of AFC Asian Cup qualifiers

Indian men’s football team captain Sunil Chhetri feels he is still enjoying his football but admitted that he is into the twilight of his career as he prepares to lead the Blue Tigers in the AFC Asian Cup qualifiers.

Chhetri, 37, remains India’s greatest goal threat and will be key to the team securing a berth in the AFC Asian Cup finals.

“Same question was asked before the last Asia Cup (2019) that 'what next' and I said the same thing. Five years have passed. It's the same now. I was 32 then, now I'm 37-38. I don't know, maybe. Right now, I'm enjoying it. I enjoy sprinting with Udanta (Singh), enjoying headers with (Sandesh) Jhingan, and scoring against Gurpreet. The day I don't (enjoy), I'll be done, I can't give you a number when,” Chhetri was quoted as saying by the Press Trust of India.

"It's not easy to get up at 6 o'clock every day or do a 30-minute yoga session before everyone wakes up. It's a very, very strict life that I live. It's not easy to do it for 21 years” he added.

The Indian football team is currently in Kolkata, for the last lap of preparations ahead of the qualifiers. India presently ranked (106) have been pitted alongside lower ranked opponents Cambodia (171), Afghanistan (150), and Hong Kong (147) in the Group D of the qualifiers, with the group winners set to earn a berth for the continental event.

India will kick off their campaign against Cambodia on June 8. Indian Captain Sunil Chhetri believes the match against Cambodia would be the toughest in the qualifiers, he added, "If we don't do well against Cambodia, you have lost half your battle. As of now, we are just thinking about Cambodia. Once we are done with them, we will think about Afghanistan. No doubt, Afghanistan are strong,” he said.

However, the team is relaxed ahead of these high-pressure games, according to the captain.

“The mood is happy, and slowly and steadily everyone is getting fit, everyone is trying to understand each other. It’s quite a new team and a lot of places are up for grabs. There is also a lot of new talent coming up. The good part is that everyone is hungry. We are hoping to get the right balance. Irrespective of who gets a chance, we are looking to put the best foot forward,” Chhetri told the AIFF Media team.

India will have home advantage playing all three games in Kolkata. While Chhetri feels the support from the crowd will surely lift the spirits of his team, the round robin format of the qualifiers this time around has made the task trickier.

“It (Playing at Salt Lake stadium) is a surreal feeling, and the respect has been a mutual one. For the past few years, I have been playing against them for the club, but whenever I have worn the National team jersey, it’s always been genuine support, and that’s what I am expecting even this time. Football fans in Kolkata will never fail you,”Chhetri said.

“Simply because we have got home advantage, I’d say it would have been better if we got two games purely on the fact that we are playing at home. But it is what it is. It doesn’t matter now, and everyone has a fair chance. Playing at home comes with its own advantage, as much, there will be pressure,” he added.

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