Chhetri: Laos match "massively important"

The national team takes on Laos in an away fixture on Thursday, while the home game (at Guwahati) will be held on June 7. The winner, decided over the two legs, will enter the third and final qualification round.

Laos holds a FIFA World ranking of 176 (as on May 5, 2016), fourteen places below India. Chhetri, however, insisted that India needs to fire on all cylinders to overcome the challenge.   -  S. Mahnisha

India international Sunil Chhetri has termed the upcoming double-legged 2019 AFC Asia Cup playoff round, against Laos, as "massively important".

The national team takes on Laos in an away fixture on Thursday, while the home game (at Guwahati) will be held on June 7. The winner, decided over the two legs, will enter the third and final qualification round.

Chhetri, who was part of the Bengaluru FC (BFC) side which recorded an upset away victory over Hong Kong club Kitchee SC a few days ago, said, "I went to the gym in Hong Kong (after the Kitchee SC outing) to do my recovery routine. I saw (fellow BFC and India players) Eugeneson Lyngdoh, Udanta Singh, Alwyn George, Rino Anto and Keegan Pereira also working out, which made me so happy.

"This shows that even though we had just won an important match for our club, we were also keen to do India duty. The Laos fixtures are massively important. The Asian Cup qualifying rounds allows us to play six to seven matches for the country. I hope that all the players are charged-up and injury-free," Chhetri said, in an event held to celebrate BFC's I-League and the AFC Cup success, at the PUMA Social Club here recently.

Laos holds a FIFA World ranking of 176 (as on May 5, 2016), fourteen places below India. Chhetri, however, insisted that India needs to fire on all cylinders to overcome the challenge.

The 31-year-old had high praise for Mohun Bagan and India striker Jeje Lalpekhlua, who has been in prime form. Lalpekhlua recorded six goals for his club in its recent AFC Cup run, and has also found the net in national colours. "I'm so proud of Jeje. I saw him for the first time in Malaysia (AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers, in 2011), when Bob Houghton was the national coach.

"He was a young guy who impressed all of us. To see him do so well this season — in the Indian Super League, I-League and for India in the SAFF Cup — has been very special. I used to hate it when he scored in the ISL (Chhetri and Lalpekhlua played for different clubs), but I hope that he continues his good form for theIndian team," Chhetri concluded.