2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers: 'Tomorrow a good game to compare India teams with the past,' says Sunil Chhetri ahead Oman clash
The road to 2022 FIFA World Cup for the Indian football team begins on Thursday when they take on Oman at the Sarusajai Stadium in Guwahati. Placed in Group E of the second round of the Qualifiers, India will be raring to deliver a better performance than the one they produced four years before when they finished at the bottom of the table with a solitary victory.
Sunil Chhetri, the captain of the team, is waiting anxiously for the match against Oman to begin and the atmosphere in the dressing room is no different. The team assembled first in Goa on 19th August before arriving in Guwahati on Tuesday.
"I think everyone is really looking forward to it. We had a great training camp. Apart from Amarjit, everyone is very fit and everyone is very hungry, which is very good. We got a lot of time to gel amongst ourselves and also to understand the new techniques and the way which the coach wants us to work. Everyone is eager to go on the pitch and play the game. I hope that we go out there, keep our cool and produce everything which we learnt," said India's record goalscorer.
India is no stranger to Oman, having begun their 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers against them on home soil but lost 1-2. The Blue Tigers lost 3-0 in the away fixture before pulling up a 0-0 draw in December as a part of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup campaign.
When asked if the match against the Middle-East nation on thursday can be taken as a yardstick to measure India's development in the past four years, Chhetri remarked that he hoped the well-wishers will end up happy with their performance.
"We lost 2-1 (in the home game) and I still remember. It was one of the games where we conceded in the first minute which wasn't a good start. Teams like Oman are big names in Asia and if you give away a goal like that, it is never easy to come back. If I am not wrong, Vineeth scored one goal later but that was given offside. Even though we didn't win that game, we were great. So, when we compare the two India teams, it will be a good way to compare tomorrow. As a team, we are really prepared and are looking forward to it. The boys are very optimistic about what we are going to do tomorrow. We just have to go there, keep our nerves and perform."
One of the remarkable aspects of the current Indian football team is a large number of youngsters present in it. Chhetri is the most senior player in the camp and believes the current crop of youngsters in the team are extremely smart.
"I don't really need to much to raise their morale. They are all very aware. Don't be fooled by their age. We have a leader in our head coach, who already speaks everything that has to be said. I just need to be a good example and that's it. I don't want Udanta to think Chhetri bhai is not running so I can lag behind. I don't want Sandesh to think Chhetri bhai is not defending so I can have a relaxed day. So, my only job is to give a good example and I will do that till the time I am here," said Chhetri.
On Amarjit's injury and India's chances to progress to next round of FIFA World Cup Qualifiers
India will be hurt by Amarjit Singh Kiyam's absence who suffered a fractured hand in training. Sunil Chhetri was full praise of the 18-year-old but initially thought the national team call-up came too early for him. In the end, he was happy to be proven wrong and wished him a speedy recovery.
"When he was called to the national team, I was thinking to myself maybe it is too early. When a lot of young boys come to the team, we think they are going to come, train and go back and it is going to take some time. But, that boy out was an absolute livewire. I don't know if he would have started or not. But, I know his energy translates to every one of us. He was somebody who was a standout performer for the last three-four games we had played. I really hope he recovers soon. I told him the easy games against Qatar and Oman, we are going to play. The difficult ones against Bangladesh, he can come and play."
India has never progressed to the third round of FIFA World Cup Qualifiers but Chhetri believes that making gradual changes and taking one step at a time can help the country reach there.
"Do I believe in? Yes, I do. Do I want it? Definitely, I do. But, it is going to be difficult. There is one part of me who believes we can do anything which we want and we are a great team. But, then you also have to see the steps in football you take, you take it gradually. There are many teams who are better than us, who are very strong. And for us to prove that we are improving, we have to take one much at a time.
"At the same way, I cannot say we are going to relax and we are going to qualify for the World Cup this edition. It is very very difficult. It's not impossible to do. Do I think about it? Do I dream about it? Of course. Every game I play for the country, I want to win it. The more games we win, the stronger the belief gets. In that context, I want to play as much part as I can," Chhetri signed off.