He might be in the twilight zone of his illustrious career but his insatiable appetite to find the back of the net every time he dons the ‘India Blues’ is what keeps 38-year-old Sunil Chhetri going.
Chhetri, the third most prolific international scorer (84 goals from 132 matches) among active international players behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, said his hunger to score is the same as it has always been.
“I don’t want to sound pompous, but I feel that there aren’t many players who are as hungry to score as I am,” Chhetri said ahead of India’s match against the Kyrgyz Republic in the Tri-Nation International football tournament here.
“My hunger to score is the same as it has always been, and it will be the same against the Kyrgyz Republic.” Having beaten Myanmar 1-0 in the first match on Wednesday last, India needs just a draw in the last match of the tournament on Tuesday.
In the Myanmar match, Chhetri had found the target, but the referee had disallowed the goal, ruling that he was offside. India head coach Igor Stimac had also claimed that Chhetri should have got a penalty for a foul on him by a Myanmar player. “Off-sides and penalty decisions are a part of the game, and you think about them for a certain amount of time, but then you move on and look forward to the next match,” said Chhetri, who made his India debut in 2005.
“What you rather do is to minimize mistakes and move on.” The talismanic striker also felt that joining the national camp just after losing the Indian Super League final for Bengaluru FC was like a boon.
“The national team camp gave us an outlet. If the camp wasn’t there, it would have been more difficult for us to cope,” Chhetri said, referring to Bengaluru’s defeat to ATK Mohun Bagan in the ISL final via penalty shootout.
“It’s not a switch of a button, but when you have to take the flight the next day to the national camp, it gives you a bit more in terms of what you are thinking. You come and see the set-up, and it takes your mind far from the loss, you start training, and your mind is further.
“After months of hard work, when you lose a final (of ISL), you can go into a rabbit hole if you have time to think. But thankfully for us, we joined straight at the National Camp.” Chhetri warned his teammates not to get complacent against their opponents on Tuesday.
“Kyrgyz Republic have physically strong and fast players. Don’t be fooled by what happened against Myanmar, because they are a top side. We have seen their last 10 games, and believe me when I say, they are a very good side,” he said.
“All the matches that we have played against them in the past have also been tough matches.” Chhetri was impressed with the support from the crowd who turned up to fill the Khuman Lampak Stadium to the brim against Myanmar.
“We got such amazing support from the crowd in the first game against Myanmar. This is the second time I have come here and the first time that I’ve played in Imphal, but I understand why the people of Manipur are crazy about football.
“I just hope that we can get a positive result against Kyrgyz Republic and hope we can give an amazing game to the people. I also saw a lot of travelling fans, as well as little girls and mothers come to the stands, and that is really good for the game.” The India captain also spoke about the motivating effect these matches could give to the younger players from the state, which has produced several international players, both men and women.
“Many of us who have been playing for a long time, we have not been here for matches. So watching all the Indian Football stars gives the younger kids that extra motivation,” said Chhetri.
“Even more than the others, seeing the likes of Suresh (Wangjam), Jeakson (Singh), Yasir (Mohammad) could motivate the kids here, though judging by the sheer number of quality players that come out of this state, they do not need as much motivation.
“I just hope that as a national team, we can give them that much more to help them dream more,” he concluded.
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