Chhetri: Need to play more friendlies against better teams

Indian skipper Sunil Chhetri is upbeat about the prospects of the youngsters who’ve come into the national squad ahead of the team’s AFC Asia Cup qualifiers.

"During my stint with the national squad, we’ve not done too well in the away games, so starting well (against Myanmar) is vital," Chhetri said.   -  PTI

India captain Sunil Chhetri arrived at the National camp at the Mumbai Football Arena under chief coach Stephen Constantine on Wednesday after completing AFC Cup duties for Bengaluru FC, and joined the probables for a training session.

He spoke to Sporstar on the sidelines. Excerpts:

India punched above its weight in the previous international friendly here against higher-ranked Puerto Rico. Do you think that sort of performance is possible more frequently?

We have more chances if we play. If somebody had asked before the game if we’d beat Puerto Rico at home, I would not have said 100 per cent sure.

It is important to keep playing friendlies against better opponents.

The AFC Asia Cup qualifier is India’s next tournament. Your thoughts on the road ahead?

In the last few games, our performances have been decent. The most important part is for everyone to be fit.

More match training would’ve helped, but that (opportunity) is gone. Now the team needs to improve daily over the 14 days remaining.

How do you rate India’s chances in the first game in the AFC Cup qualifiers, against Myanmar?

I just want to win! The last time I played, we lost after missing so many chances.

During my stint with the national squad, we’ve not done too well in the away games, so starting well (against Myanmar) is vital.

Stephen Constantine handed out debuts to several players over the last two years during the World Cup Qualifying. How are they coming along?

Those players have taken their places in the squad. When we started there weren’t many players able to talk about starting in the first XI.

Jeje (Lalpekhlua) is outstanding. He has understood exactly what works for him, knows what he is good at, and works hard on it and is performing well for club and country.

Eugene (Lyngdoh) has been great. Gurpreet (Singh) has come up.

Our coach did not ask new faces to play out of choice. The seniors were moving on, his mantra was to create a bigger pool to choose from.

If anyone gets injured, the replacement should be equal, if not better. Injuries will happen, form will dip. I think he (Constantine) has achieved his objective.

I am a firm believer that if you have a strong first team, you become better. Others are going to push hard to get into the 14. Competition improves everyone.

I hope the names I have mentioned keep their places, and those coming in also do the same.

You tried to make a mark in Europe (Sporting Lisbon) and in the US (Kansas City Wizards), and Gurpreet Singh is now playing in Norway. Do you feel anyone from this batch has a chance?

Many have a chance. I don’t encourage them to play just in Europe; any club they think can better them, the player should go to.

The youngsters have potential, and the avenues are opening up now.

Gurpreet’s effort is fantastic. We had a talk when he left (East Bengal for Norwegian club Stabaek IF). Look at him now! So confident that you cannot score against him in training.

Every time he comes back (from Norway) he is a different person. I am so proud of him. You never know, two seasons there and he could be playing for one of the giant clubs in Europe!