Sunil Chhetri: Every minute felt like an hour during draw against Qatar

The Indian national team pulled off a memorable goalless draw against Asian champions Qatar in their FIFA World Cup 2022 qualifying match in Doha last year. Although the Blue Tigers captain Sunil Chhetri could not play a part in his team’s performance due to illness, the Bengaluru FC forward was kicking every ball with his teammates from his hotel room.

“I was ill. So much so that I couldn’t even go to the ground to watch (the match). It was a torture to be left outside. Every minute went by like an hour. But, at the end, we registered a memorable result and things turned out to be rather 'sweet', in more ways than one,” recalled Chhetri on the official AIFF website.

Having been asked to rest ahead of the game, Chhetri mentions how he helped motivate the players without being around the team, he said, “Communication was critical and I tried my best to keep in touch with the boys – to motivate them and keep their spirits up. I could not see them and talk physically, so I kept pumping them up and spoke through the group on WhatsApp in order to galvanize them and prepare them mentally.”

“I was gutted not to be on the bus and in my usual match day routine as it left for the stadium. In the previous three days, I had seen and heard how hard everyone had worked -- right from the head coach to all the boys and the support staff. However, even the send-off to the stadium was virtual from my side, as I could not leave my room,” Chhetri added.

While sharing his thoughts on the game, the 35-year-old striker said, “I would a thousand times prefer to be on the pitch helping my team than be a spectator from outside. Towards the end, both sides started pushing aggressively for the go-ahead goal, even my volume levels went up and I was screaming like crazy.”

The emotions of the team were running high after the match and Chhetri was no different even though he was in the confines of his hotel room. “As the boys celebrated with the fans, I was jumping for joy in my room. It is not every day that you hold the best side in Asia to a clean sheet in their own den – a team that scored against every other Asian opposition that year. Of all the matches I have been a part of over the years, this stands out right up there with the best,” he said.

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