Chhetri: 'Not just Bengaluru, this match is about India'

Bengaluru FC's Sunil Chhetri has urged the entire nation to rally behind the Blues as it takes on AFC Cup defending champion Johor Darul Ta’zim FC in the second leg of the semifinal. In a freewheeling chat, Chhetri speaks about ‘this being about India,’ BFC’s success mantra, the opponent, whether it’s advantage BFC and much more.

"The 1-1 draw in the first leg, away from home, is sure an advantage but not a really big one. They are a quality side and will come all guns blazing. We need to stick to our plan."   -  k. murali kumar

This is the third time an Indian club will be trying to break the jinx of making it to the final of the AFC Cup, Dempo SC and Kingfisher East Bengal having made it to the last four earlier. Bengaluru FC's Sunil Chhetri has urged the entire nation to rally behind the Blues as it takes on AFC Cup defending champion Johor Darul Ta’zim FC in the second leg of the semifinal. In a freewheeling chat, Chhetri speaks about ‘this being about India,’ BFC’s success mantra, the opponent, whether it’s advantage BFC and much more. Edited excerpts:

You have been vocal on your SM handles asking fans for support. Why and how is this match different?

To put it simply, this game will decide if Indian club football can write a new chapter in history or not. We’re on the brink of something special and it’s going to take a determined 90 minutes to set foot where no club from the country has before. But more importantly, this is not just about Bengaluru or Karnataka, this is about India. And that is exactly why me and my teammates have been so vocal about getting the country to rally behind us.

In your playing career so far where would you rate this match in terms of significance?

At the club level this game is up there simply because of what we could achieve should things go our way. No club from India has been in a final before, and for us -- in our three years of existence -- to be able to do that will be so special. I’ve won major trophies with different clubs and I cherish every one of them. But to make the final of an Asian tournament will be up there.

People often curse Indian clubs for lack of vision. But here we are looking at a club, barely three-years-old, which is on the threshold of history. How do you define that?

It’s all about pulling out a blueprint of what you want to achieve and working single-mindedly to getting it done. In three years, we’ve won the league twice, lost it with three minutes on the clock once and have won the Federation Cup. You can’t get that lucky, can you? Everyone at this club -- the players, staff, owners, management and even the fans -- are obsessed with wanting to be the change. And when everyone thinks alike, you can effect a change. That’s exactly what has been happening at BFC.

You have played Johor thrice this season and haven’t been able to get past them. What do you need to do this time?

On paper we don’t need to get past them to progress as even a 0-0 draw will do. But the coach hates playing that way and so do the players. In the four times we have played Johor, we’ve come really close on two occasions [2-1 after extra time and 1-0 in Bengaluru]. And then we managed to take a point away last month. The belief is there. They are a strong team and is the champion with good reason but we always back ourselves and more so when we’re playing at home.

Do you believe its advantage BFC after the 1-1 draw in the first leg?

It sure is an advantage but not a really big one. If JDT score a goal early on, we’re going to be chasing this game. What the away goal has done is given us the belief that we can go out there, take the fight to the champion and come away with a reward. They are a quality side and will come all guns blazing. We need to stick to our plan and I think we will be alright.

Big match, Big Player – will the second leg be a Sunil Chhetri special?

Believe me when I tell you it won’t even matter if Amrinder Singh scores on the night if it means us going through to the final. But yes, I would like to play my part in the game. I relish big nights and stages and for us, till date, this would be the biggest game. If it turns out to be a Sunil Chhetri special, so be it.

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