India's former football captain Bhaichung Bhutia on Thursday said that the team's forward line must up its game and shake off the relying on its talismanic skipper Sunil Chhetri in the upcoming World Cup qualifier match against Bangladesh.
Bhutia said that the team’s defence has already showed a good account of itself in the last two World Cup qualifier matches and the onus is on the strikers to deliver against the neighbour on October 15 at Kolkata.
“Our main concern has been defending and if they can maintain that, it’s okay. Now this Bangladesh game is going to be a big test for the strikers. It’s not the defence but the forward line which will have to deliver,” Bhutia told PTI in an interview.
“I think against Qatar (in the drawn match), India defended well. We definitely require more goal-scoring strikers. We need to improve our striking zone as it’s only Sunil who’s able to score. If he’s not playing or does not score it becomes very, very difficult.”
The draw against Qatar in Doha in its last match gave India its first point in round two of the World Cup qualifiers after it had tasted a 1-2 defeat against Oman in its Group E opening clash in Guwahati.
India needs to beat Bangladesh here to keep its hopes of qualifying for the next round alive. Bangladesh is currently ranked 187th, 83 places below India.
“The way they have played the last two games, it should come easy for India and they should win it comfortably,” Bhutia said.
He also spoke about India’s spirited display against Qatar, especially by the defensive unit led by goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu who thwarted a barrage of attacks to come out on a clean slate.
“It’s been great and fantastic last two matches, one of the best that India have played. But it has to go on. You have set a standard now that has to be kept. The consistency and the performance the way they played the last two matches has to continue.
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“Defensive, formation, discipline and keeping it tight were the biggest takeways. They played compact football. Gurpreet is one of the fantastic goalkeepers. I was in the committee of Arjuna Awards, I knew what Gurpreet has done,” he said on Gurpreet who was bestowed with the Arjuna Award recently.
Talking about centre back Sandesh Jhingan, Bhutia said, “He is one player who gives everything on the pitch. That’s been from day one when I first saw him as a 17-year-old boy at United Sikkim.”
The footballer-turned-Hamro Sikkim Party leader, who is contesting the Gangtok bye-elections on October 21, also said that the Indian team should play more often in Kolkata where the crowd normally turns up in large numbers.
“It’s the Mecca of Indian football and it’s nice and interesting to play at the Saltlake Stadium. I feel that India should play more often in Kolkata,” Bhutia said.
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India last played in Kolkata on November 16, 2011 in a friendly match against Malaysia when it won 3-2 with Chhetri setting up the win with a brace.
The ticket sales are on a high with 34,000 already sold out for the match at Saltlake that last hosted a marquee game in the U-17 World Cup summit clash between England and Spain in October 2017.
“It’s unfortunate that it’s somehow taken eight years for Kolkata to host an India match. I’m sure the football fans in Kolkata will also enjoy,” Bhutia said.
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