This team works extremely hard and everyone chips in, I’m just a cherry-picker of the cake: India captain Sunil Chhetri
Indian men’s senior national football team skipper Sunil Chhetri was elated to see his team pull off the three points in the dying moments of the game in their 2-1 win against Afghanistan in the third round of the AFC Asian Cup qualifiers at the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata, on Saturday.
India’s national icon at 37, Chhetri shows no signs of stopping and continues to deliver at the most vital moments, this time with an exquisite free kick to put the Blue Tigers’ noses in front. Yet, the striker set aside his personal contribution, being courteous of the team contribution and marking the win as a collective effort rather than an individual one.
The forward spoke to the broadcaster Star Sports and the AIFF Media team after the match.
Here are the excerpts from his interview:
How many times are you going to pop in the right and score goals for India?
Again, I’m really blessed to be a part of a team that works incredibly hard. It’s not me, it’s the whole team, we work extremely hard, everyone chips in, I’m just the cherry picker of the entire cake in the end. That’s it really, everyone plays a part, I’m not being modest, I have a specific role to play and so does everyone. We gel and try to sync together to be a better team. That’s the target for our young side, all the places are still up for grabs, we’re going to work really hard and be a strong team.
An incredible win for team India. What were you feeling when Sahal scored the winner in added time?
It was an incredible goal. Sahal [Samad] kept his composure, the build-up was good for the last goal, it wasn’t easy, all the changes made paid their dividends and it’s a very satisfying win. When you almost thought you got to share the points and then you get the three points is so crucial in this group. I’m extremely happy with the performance of the team.
You’ll complete 17 years with Indian football on Sunday. What sets these youngsters apart from the others?
I’ve been really blessed to play with a lot of groups, this one is a very aware one, a group which knows exactly what their strengths and weaknesses are, they work really hard, slowly and steadily everyone is taking their places in the team. It’s really good to be in the midst of the boys here.
You learn so much from so many of them, and I’m happy for myself, happy for the team, for everyone, for all the fans over here. It was indeed a special day.
There is no burden of history on this team, is that one of the factors?
Not that much. I mean the boys are more aware of what they’re capable of. I think they don’t take too much baggage with them which is a good thing with the fact that they’re young and are eager to express themselves. They don’t read too much into what has happened before and come under pressure.
You could see how Sahal kept his composure, you could see what Udanta did when he came on, you could see how good Jeakson [Singh] and Suresh [Wangjam] who were just as good as they played in the U-17 World Cup. So, this team is really confident, not that you want to make mistakes, we will but we will bounce back and learn again.
The Indian football team has never had back-to-back qualifications in the Asian Cup. How big is this for Indian football?
I’m not sure man, we’ve to go and check all the other groups, but we still have a strong advantage now, we still have a game to play and we need to win that one. We haven’t seen the other results. We’ve already said that the bare minimum target for us is to qualify for the Asia Cup so that we can go and rub shoulders with the best in Asia.
I think I’m not being too harsh on ourselves but we need to be playing in every edition of the Asia Cup so that we can assess as to how much we are improving and also get an opportunity to play the better ranked teams.