India defended too much, says Sunil Chhetri

India was knocked out of the AFC Asian Cup on Monday after going down to Bahrain 1-0.

Sunil Chhetri (left) fights for the ball with Bahrain midfielder Kamil Al Aswad.   -  AFP Photo

Sunil Chhetri became India's most-capped player when he got on the pitch for Monday's tie against Bahrain but it turned out to be a sour outing as India fell to a 1-0  defeat and crashed out of the AFC Asian Cup 2019.

Chhetri was expected to lead the attacking line after scoring a brace in the opening game against Thailand and subsequently putting up an impressive show against the United Arab Emirates. However, he struggled to create an impact against Bahrain. He did play a few quick exchanges with his wingers but was on most occasions left chasing the odd long ball, which didn't go in his favour.

Speaking to reporters after the heart-wrenching loss, Chhetri felt the team deserved to qualify to the next round based on it's last two performances. “I'm gutted, disappointed and angry. I don’t think we played the same way that we played the first two games against Thailand and UAE and it tells you that at this level there is no 95 percent, you have to go 100 percent every game,” he said.

Read: Jamal Rashed's penalty knocks India out

“Although we did defend well, we defended too much. Sometimes when you just need a draw this is what happens. It’s something that we learned today. I hope we become stronger from here,” he added.

The 34-year-old opined the game would've played out differently had India held on to the ball and played more passes. The Indians played a total of 289 passes, as compared to Bahrain's 425. “We needed to have more guts to keep the ball and calm down because they were desperate and they had just two men behind the ball. If we had kept the ball and made four passes we would have been two versus two. We probably didn’t think it at that time, we just kept defending and everything wrong that could have happened. The other game [UAE vs Thailand] finished 1-1, [we conceded a] 90th-minute penalty, we learned it the hard way.”

Much like coach Stephen Constantine, Chhetri also stated that the team did not set out with the intention of playing for a draw. “It was probably there in the back of our minds, I don’t know. It wasn't on my mind. We had a team meeting and we knew we had to press but as the game went by, the realisation hit us that it’s 70 minutes and it’s 0-0, so let’s keep it like that. So we defended deeper. If the penalty didn't happen you would say it was a great defensive performance from India. It’s just one of those days.”

Unaware of Constantine's decision to step down

Chhetri revealed that the team did not know about Constantine's decision to resign and only found out after the game. “We didn’t know before the game. I think he spoke to us before he came and spoke to you guys [at the post-match conference], ”he said. 

Also read: Constantine steps down as India coach after Asian Cup exit

“I think he did really well for the country. If you see the records, the number of boys he has given chances and his overall graph, he has done really well. I just want to thank him from me and the whole boys for doing a great job and I hope wherever he goes, I wish him all the luck,” he added.

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