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Asian Cup 2019: Each Player is a Star, I'm Not the Only Known Face, says Sunil Chhetri ahead of Team's Departure for UAE

Mohak Arora
ANALYST
Exclusive
19 Dec 2018, 19:30 IST

(From left) Sandesh Jhingan, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Jeje Lalpekhlua, Sunil Chhetri, Pritam Kotal, Subhasish Bose and Rowllin Borges sport the Indian National Football Team's new look for the Asian Cup
(From left) Sandesh Jhingan, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Jeje Lalpekhlua, Sunil Chhetri, Pritam Kotal, Subhasish Bose and Rowllin Borges sport the Indian National Football Team's new look for the Asian Cup

Sunil Chhetri, the most experienced player in the Indian national football team, feels he's not the only star player in the Indian squad for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup.

The prolific forward pointed out that Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Udanta Singh, Jeje Lalpekhlua and a host of others have emerged in the national team and he's just the guy who gets the team a lot of goals.

ALSO READ: Sunil Chhetri nominated for Best Football in Asia Award

Ahead of India's departure for the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the host nation of the Asian Cup, Chhetri said: "It's not true (that I am the only known face). The responsibility of carrying India through lies on Jeje, Sandesh (Jhingan), Gurpreet, Udanta and others, who are also big players. Mention these names to any other sports journalists and they will tell you how big these guys are.

"They are in great form. They have done well in the last two years for the Indian National team. They are the reason we have managed to reach so far. I just sit on the top and pick the cherries. Those names I mentioned and a couple of others are the ones who do all the hard work."

Chhetri spoke after the Indian national football team unveiled their new kits before leaving for Abu Dhabi to prepare for the Asian Cup.

The team, coached by Stephen Constantine, will play two friendlies before the Asian Cup kicks off on January 5. The Blue Tigers will face Oman in the first friendly on December 27, before facing an Emirati club on December 30 in Abu Dhabi.

The Indian team has a relatively easy draw as they have drawn the lowest-ranked team from Pot 1 (UAE, ranked 81), the lowest-ranked team from Pot 2 (Thailand, ranked 122) and Bahrain from Pot 4, who are ranked 116. It is expected of the Indian team to reach at least the quarter-final stage of the coveted tournament.


India players along with national football team coach Stephen Constantine (third from left) and All India Football Federation president Praful Patel
India players along with national football team coach Stephen Constantine (third from left) and All India Football Federation president Praful Patel
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India's leading goalscorer, Chhetri, said the team would give their best in the tournament irrespective of who they face on a given day.

I was there on the day of the draw and I was trying to think what will be the perfect draw for us. But when I looked at the other 23 teams, I knew, it's gonna be a difficult challenge and we are just happy to be qualified and are ready to face anyone. We are prepared and in the end, it's gonna come down to how we are gonna play.

On India's preparations

When asked about the preparations, Constantine said he is happy and would be looking to utilise the two matches before the tournament to prepare.

"As far as the preparation is concerned, it's good. We leave tomorrow for Abu Dhabi and play two matches before the tournament kicks off. Obviously, I would have liked to play more matches but it is how it is and we will try to prepare the best we can" he said.

With Nishu Kumar already out for the tournament due to an injury, the head coach revealed that Jerry Lalrinzuala would also miss the tournament because of a knee injury.


No comments on Rahul Bheke exclusion

When asked about ignoring the in-form players like Rahul Bheke and Michael Soosairaj, Constantine refused to comment and said that he is not interested to discuss anyone who is not travelling to Abu Dhabi.

ALSO READ: Why Rahul Bheke never stood a chance of making the squad

When asked to comment on his expectations from the current squad and their chances at the Cup, the 34-year old forward was quite confident but denied to look too much towards the future.

"We will do everything to get the three points in the first match and that is all we are concerned of as of now," Chhetri, who plays for Bengaluru FC in the ISL, said.

On the significance of Asian Cup

When the head coach was asked about the importance of the tournament, he echoed Chhetri's thoughts of focusing on the Thailand game right now and take the matches as they come.

He said, "This is a massive tournament for me, for the team, for the nation and for everybody involved, it's the Asian Cup. Also, I would tell you the same thing about every other tournament. We are taking it one game at a time, we are scouting Thailand's players and we will ensure that we are as prepared for that game as we can be. We will try to keep everyone fit and make the nation proud."
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