Sandesh Jhingan: ‘Fans gave us that extra push’

India defender Sandesh Jhingan said there was no pressure to perform in front of 8,000-plus spectators in Sunil Chhetri’s 100th game.

Indian football fans with the national flag and Chhetri posters at the Mumbai Football Arena in Mumbai on Monday.   -  Prashant Nakwe

 

On Monday, at the Mumbai Football Arena, Sandesh Jhingan slogged to clear the ball in the first half, worked harder in the second half to contain the pacy Kenyans on a watery pitch. With three goals confirming victory for India in the Intercontinental Cup game, he limped off the pitch amidst applause for keeping the backline together.

Performing in front of packed stands is not new for the Indian defender. He has flourished in front of thousands wearing the Kerala Blasters FC jersey in the Indian Super League. But this fixture, against Kenya, was historic as it marked Sunil Chhetri’s 100th appearance.

READ: Chhetri, Jeje sink Kenya to make it two in two

Jhingan said there was no pressure to deliver in front of 8,000-plus fans at the MFA. “I look forward to playing in a full stadium. It gave us extra motivation. When we entered the stadium and saw people present to welcome us, it gave us that extra push. We were talking about this in the dressing room. Fans came and we had to deliver,” he said.

While feeling “lucky enough to have played in front of good fans” he emphasised that “Blue Pilgrims is about fans from all over the country coming together I’m happy they can go home with a smile on their faces.”

Jhingan shook hands with Chhetri before walking off in the 79th minute. Regarding the gesture, he said, “I wanted to shake hands with him, because this is his 100th game. It was just a simple gesture, he is my captain.”

From the coach's desk

Stephen Constantine, India's coach, felt that the match turned memorable for the Indian captain. “I was thinking before this game about who is going to spoil this day for him. I’m delighted he got the goals and that we won, he is not going to forget this (victory) for some time,” he said.

ALSO READ: Fans pour in as Chhetri raises a ton

Constantine, reacting to a question on Mumbai fans coming in large numbers to cheer for Chhetri, he said, “We should not be begging people to come and watch the national team play. It (fan attendance) was just unbelievable from the Blue Pilgrims and other people. When your national team is playing, it was disappointing to see crowd (numbers) for the earlier game (against Chinese Taipei). They more than made up for it. I thank every single one of them and expect them to be here for the next two games.”

Two back-to-back wins in a round-robin format puts the home team in line for the final. “In the second half, we did the job we were supposed to do, slowed down the tempo and pace, won most of the second balls. Kenya was going to be a difficult side but it was a great result for us. I’m very pleased for everybody.”

India was in trouble in the first half, played in pouring rain. “I have never seen so much rain in my life. In the second half, it looked like it had not rained at all. I want to thank the people at MFA for the work done (to make the ground playable),” said the coach.

India scored three times in the second half after a goalless first half.

Two goals from Chhetri and one from Jeje Lalpekhlua sealed the game for the host.

After the game, the team stood in a row, faced the fans and together launched into the popular ‘Viking’ handclap celebrations.