Indian football team captain Sunil Chhetri did what he does best – score goals. But, against Kuwait, it was not enough. Getting at the end of a pinpoint ball by Thapa, the Indian skipper rattled the net on the volley to give India a 1-0 lead in the dying stages of the first-half.
Chhetri bagged his 92nd international goal but saw his team succumb to a 1-1 draw, courtesy of a late own goal by Anwar Ali.
The last time India played Kuwait was in an international friendly in 2010, where the Blue Tigers suffered a 9-1 humiliation. From that result to holding the Al-Azraqs to a 1-1 draw has surely been an improvement. However, Chhetri was not satisfied.
“The feeling that comes to my mind right is a feeling of loss because, at the last moment, we conceded that goal. But I am sure we did a lot of good things. When we watch the video analysis, we will come to know better,” the Indian skipper said after the match.
“To a large extent, we could do what we had trained for. They are not an easy side. This team can play, and we can see that. But for the majority of the time. I think we did well, but right now, I can’t say much about it. Once we see the video, we will probably know it better.”
Chhetri on Stimac’s red card
The match against Kuwait was an ill-tempered one, with India head coach Igor Stimac seeing a red card for dissent. It is the Croat’s second red card in the tournament, having already seen the first one in India’s 2023 SAFF Championship opener against Pakistan.
By the time Stimac saw the red card in the 81st minute, Chhetri had already been substituted. Asked about what exactly transpired leading up to the red, he said, “I have no idea. I came to the party late. I was right there [in the dugout], but by the time I had arrived at the scene, everything had already happened. We haven’t talked about it. We generally don’t talk about games right after the match. We will recuperate, and then we will see.”
India’s assistant coach Mahesh Gawli had harsh criticism for the level of refereeing during the Kuwait match and urged SAFF to increase the standard of refereeing. Being on the pitch, Chhetri was asked about his personal opinion on the level of officiating.
“I always get into trouble saying anything. So, if the assistant coach has said, you take his word,” Chhetri said.
India will not have Stimac on the sidelines for the semifinal as at least a one-match suspension is certain. The Croat’s presence on the pitch has been a luxury for the Blue Tigers but with Stimac receiving his second red card in three matches, India will miss his presence.
Asked whether his continued absence has a mental impact on the players, Chhetri said, “Not much because preparation is done before the game. But yes, if you don’t have your leader, it affects you. We still don’t know what happened. Once we see it, we will discuss it.”
Chhetri backs Anwar
It was Ali’s own goal that prevented India from winning the match against Kuwait and topping the group. However, Chhetri offered abundance of support for his teammate and said that own goals could happen to anyone.
“It’s not Anwar; it’s the country who conceded. It’s an own goal. It can happen to anyone. We are all professional enough not to talk about it. I hope the kid shrugs it off,” the skipper said.
“We have his back. Don’t take technical mistakes seriously. We work on the effort. I’ve missed silly goals I shouldn’t have missed. Someone might make a silly challenge, and we’ll get a penalty. It happens in football. India conceded the goal, not Anwar.”
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