Wanted to give everything we had: Chhetri and Co react to Hero Intercontinental Cup win
Igor Stimac’s side ensured a positive end to the Hero Intercontinental Cup on Sunday by emerging winners with a solid 2-0 victory against Lebanon in the summit clash.
Indian football team head coach Igor Stimac had promised that his side will make sure they win the Hero Intercontinental Cup final against Lebanon after being held to a goalless draw by the same opposition last week. In the end, Stimac’s side ensured a positive end to the tournament on Sunday by emerging winners with a gritty 2-0 victory against Lebanon in the summit clash.
India weren’t at their best in the first half, but came out all guns blazing in the second half. With renewed energy and determination, the Blue Tigers scored through Sunil Chhetri and Lallianzuala Chhangte as they finished the tournament unbeaten. Chhangte, in particular, was the standout performer for India in attack, tallying a goal and an assist as he was awarded with the Hero of the Match award.
“It feels great to help the team and get a trophy. But I wouldn't have done this without my teammates from the back, from our goalkeeper to our defence. They were so good at the back which is why we were getting the freedom (to attack),” Chhangte said after the game.
“We were up against a very good side and there’s no doubt that they were a tough side. But we approached the second half with a different mentality. The coach encouraged us to keep going, creating chances and keep shooting. That’s what we did and it gave us the win,” the Mumbai City FC winger further added.
Chhetri, who opened the scoring for India in the final, also revealed about how the half-time team talk by head coach Stimac served as a wake up call for the Blue Tigers.
"We got some tongue lashing from the boss at half-time. We were nowhere close to the way we started in the last game against Lebanon. Probably, that was the wakeup call that we needed. A lot of words were spoken, some of which I can’t repeat here. Thankfully, we reacted because we knew we had it (energy) in our tanks, and at the end of the day, we spoke about having no regrets after the game. Of course, it’s easier now to say this after winning 2-0, but we just wanted to give everything we had,” he recalled.
India ended the tournament without suffering a defeat. With this win, the Blue Tigers retained the title, having last won the Hero Intercontinental Cup during the 2018 edition held in Mumbai. The Blue Tigers also registered clean sheets in all their games and Chhetri was proud with the way the team defended as a unit throughout the tournament.
“We enjoyed this tournament. I was telling the boys that I do not remember the last time we won the tournament because we had a different variety of guests coming and playing this tournament (in the last edition). To win a tournament at home is always sweet, but its not easy. Teams that you don't play generally, you get to play them in the Hero Intercontinental Cup. We’re really happy. The most happiness we have got is keeping clean sheets because that is the first mantra that we had is that no matter what we are going to work hard keeping clean sheets,” Chhetri said.
Defender Sandesh Jhingan was a peripheral figure at the back for the Indian side in the Hero Intercontinental Cup. The centre-back, who also captained the side, was the only Indian player to start every single game for the Blue Tigers during the tournament. India managed shut outs in all their four games, ending the tournament with a perfect clean sheet record.
Talking about the importance of not conceding goals, Jhingan said: “Every clean sheet is important. It is a base to build the team. Well done to the whole team, we have been really good throughout the tournament. Credit to the coaching staff for putting us through those drills so that we improve but we should not look too far ahead.”
He added: “We are still a side that is still improving. You can see how good we can be when we work hard and we look forward to the future with an optimistic view point. The sky's the limit.”
Meanwhile, goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu didn’t have much to do in the final with Lebanon threatening the Indian defence on a few occasions. However, the Bengaluru FC custodian highlighted the importance of being mentally switched on despite not being kept busy between the sticks.
“That is the most difficult part, not being in the game in terms of getting some attacks towards the goal. But being in the game in terms of mentality, speaking up and communicating, it’s draining. That’s football. You need to be in the game all the time and keep communicating with your defenders and midfielders,” he said.
India will travel to Bengaluru to take part in the upcoming SAFF Championship, starting on Wednesday. Despite a busy schedule ahead, Gurpreet mentioned that the ongoing momentum will benefit the team in the games to follow.
“The only (challenging) part we have is the travel. Other than that, I think it is okay playing games like this. We are getting used to it. We have played our fourth game and I think the continuity will help us,” he signed off.