Want to go out there and enjoy because it’s not going to last for a long time: India captain Sunil Chhetri
Indian men’s senior national football team captain Sunil Chhetri was satisfied with his team’s overall display in the third round of the AFC Asian Cup qualifiers campaign after securing a back-to-back qualification to the Asian Cup due to be held in the coming year.
Igor Stimac’s men put up a commanding display and smashed four goals against Hong Kong, coming from Anwar Ali (2’), captain Sunil Chhetri (45’), Manvir Singh (85’), and a late strike from Ishan Pandita (90+5’) at the Salt Lake Stadium.
The 37-year-old, who is still the most influential player for the Blue Tigers on the pitch, scored his 84th international goal for India, equalling Hungarian icon Ferenc Puskas goalscoring tally. Chhetri laid emphasis on giving everything for the badge, and continue to deliver for the nation until he calls it a day, stating it as an honour to represent the country.
The striker addressed the official broadcaster Star Sports and the AIFF media team after the conclusion of the match in an exclusive interveiw.
Here are the excerpts from his post-match interview:
You’re now one goal away from beating legend Ferenc Puskas’ goalscoring tally after equalising on Tuesday. What's the feeling like?
It feels good when you see that chart [goalscoring] for five seconds and then you carry on without sounding modest or anything. I genuinely don’t think too much about the records. I know when I’m playing matches for my country, I don’t have that many left so I want to go out there and enjoy every game. I want to slide, I want to run, I want to do each and everything that I can because I know it’s not going to last for a long time. And it [playing for India] is probably the best thing that has happened to me in my life, it’s an absolute honour and I take every bit of it.
Massive result for you guys. Do you as a team wish the Asian Cup was tomorrow?
Yeah, the kind of form we are in, who love to play at home, the way the fans are coming up and supporting us in numbers, it’d be great to play here. Yes, we are very satisfied, I generally don’t use this word but I’m really satisfied with the performance of the team. We had set a target to do well especially when we got the qualifiers at home and we’re really happy that we did it with nine points in three games which wasn’t easy. Both the last games, without defeating Cambodia, would be difficult. So, three wins, nine points feels good.
Is this the sweetest qualification so far after being in the team for so many years? How do you see them all differently?
I think now I’m at my peak. Yes, this feels good because the last one is already past us. We really wanted to work hard. It doesn’t matter in the upcoming big tournaments whether I’m there or anyone else is there or not, India should be there and I’ve always said this. It is paramount for us as a nation to keep being at the Asian Cup so we can rub shoulders with the best in Asia, we will know how much we lack and how much we have improved.
It is not very often that we can rub shoulders with the best in Asia, and Asian Cup gives you a chance, also when you qualify, you can have more friendlies with the opponents. So, all in all, everything works well when you qualify for big tournaments and that was what our initial goal was, and thankfully we worked hard and now we’re there. We have to now prepare well and give a good account of ourselves as what we did in the last Asian Cup.
The confidence built on by these players is remarkable. Do you feel it on the pitch?
Yes, they’re amazing, man. They will kill me for calling them kids but the boys are amazing. I think we’ve got the mixture really well now, Gurpreet [Sandhu] and Sandesh [Jhingan] along with Rahul [Bheke] and Khabra [Harmanjyot] to make sure that we have the balance of seniority along with the young ones. Not in a wrong way, but they [the young ones] do not care too much, they want to go out and express themselves.
You’ve got Liston [Colaco], Suresh [Wangjam], Akash [Mishra], Roshan [Naorem], and Akash and Roshan have been brilliant. A lot of young ones coming up, a lot of other players have left. I was telling the other day how Ishan [Pandita] has been outstanding in training and look what he did, to get 10 minutes on a rainy day like that, it is not easy but we knew that the likes of Ishan and Sahal [Abdul Samad] would score because in training they’re smashing goal left, right and centre. So, it gives you a very good warm feeling, so much talent when everyone is trying to knock the coach’s door for a playing XI chance.