Chhetri: We need to play bigger teams more often

"We have six months for the AFC. We have to work very hard. We have not played a single big opponent in the last two years," says Chhetri.

Sunil Chhetri’s remarks make sense as India has done badly against the continent’s top opponents, away from home, during the 2018 World Cup qualification campaign.   -  Special Arrangement

Sunil Chhetri lost little time in mingling with the kids, inviting them for an impromptu dribbling session, his skills in place.

He was a judge at the Kia Motors-organised event on a warm Sunday morning to pick six players from the group of 50 to travel to the 2018 World Cup in Russia as official ball carriers.

“Such contests and then going to the World Cup will leave a huge impression on the kids. When I was younger, my father would bring DVDs of old World Cups. They were the inspiration.

“Those days one could not watch football like we can today, where one can follow almost all the leagues of the world,” he said in a chat with Sportstar.

The kids will be watching Brazil vs Costa Rica and Panama vs Belgium matches. “They will gain from the experience. Such events do help in giving the player that added motivation,” said Chhetri.

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With India drawn in Group A of the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019, and coach Stephen Constantine confident of the team making it to the knockout stage, Chhetri observed, “The way I look at it, things could have been worse. We already knew it would be difficult.

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“The only thing left for us to discover was the degree of difficulty. I was there for the draws. We had four dummy draws. Twice we drew Japan, Uzbekistan and DPR Korea. I am not trying to demean Bahrain or Thailand or the UAE but getting Japan, Uzbekistan or DPR would have been different. That’s why you see lot of people being positive and optimistic.”

Chhetri took a realistic view, “We have six months for the AFC. We have to work very hard. We have not played a single big opponent in the last two years and to me that is the biggest drawback. What bothers me is the build-up to this tournament.

“I hope we get to play some bigger opponents. Only then will we know the difference. The last I played Australia, Japan or Korea was in 2011. How do I assess my team against them?

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“Unless we play the big guns how do we know which part of the game we need to address. How can you suddenly play Japan after four years, what kind of homework we go in with? It is not easy. We played Iran in Bengaluru, they dominated us because we were not playing them regularly.”

The World Cup, added Chhetri, would be, “more pacy and tactical. In the last four years the sprints have increased amazingly. They have gone up by 20 percent. The tempo will be very high.

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“I would always pick Germany because they have history of doing well in big tournaments. France and Belgium can be the dark horses. It will be a great World Cup to watch.”