Sunil Chhetri reflects on India's draw against Qatar and says the team could've won had the game gone on longer
With the Indian Super League set to kick off next month, champions Bengaluru FC held an open training session at the Banglore Football Stadium and were welcomed back to the fold but their loyal supporters, who flocked to the stadium in large numbers.
Just a couple of days back, BFC players like Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Rahul Bheke and Udanta Singh put in spirited performances and helped the Indian national team to hold Asian giants Qatar to a goalless draw away from home.
Captain Sunil Chhetri missed out on the historic result due to illness and reflected on his inability to take part in the game and the raft of emotions he went through before the match kicked off.
"Before the first minute, before the whistle went, I was crying," Chhetri said on the sidelines of BFC's training session at the Bangalore Football Stadium.
"Everyone doesn't like not playing, but I hate not playing. I'm the worst when I'm not playing. So, I was cribbing, I was ill too because when you're in the team, you do not think about anything else. But, the 90 minutes were so good."
When asked about who he thought was the standout player for India on the night, Chhetri couldn't give a definitive answer and said that he couldn't single out one outstanding performer, since there were so many players who played out of their skin against Qatar.
"Somebody asked me, please tell me who played well, and I took 14 names and also named 2 coaches because I didn't know whom to pick," he said.
"I thought Gurpreet Singh is the man of the match but my god, Anirudh Thapa was absolutely everywhere. Mandar Rao, Rahul Bheke, Rowlin Borgess - I didn't know whom to pick (as the man of the match) - they were all so good."
Although India just got one point out of the game, Chhetri believes that when the entire context of the result is taken into consideration, which includes the fantastic individual performances and the successful execution of everything they practised in training, this result has the potential to be an absolute game-changer for the Indian camp.
"I told someone that even though we did not get 3 points and had just one point to show, and yet (the game) changed everything for us. Now when we come to the camp, we will just be a different team," Chhetri said.
"The confidence of what you can do when if you are like that and train well, what you can do is that, that's how much you are capable of, and that gives me so much confidence. So yeah, that was a very important game for us even though it didn't give us 3 points, it was a very important game for us."
Barcelona legend Xavi, who retired in Qatar earlier this year in May, was present at the game and Chhetri spoke about the influence that the Catalan legend has on the Qatari national team's style of play.
"I saw Xavi biting his nails and I thought, 'Wow, this is really nice.'
He has a lot of control over the way Qatar play. He's also coaching one of their sides now and he is the influence behind Qatar playing the Barcelona way. Their coach has also spent a bit of time at Barcelona before, so there's a lot of reference from there."
Chhetri, like any other fan of the national team, experienced a plethora of emotions during the course of the 90 minutes against Qatar. When asked what exactly went through his mind and what he was like during the latter stages of the game, Chhetri said:
"I was screaming. I'll be honest, from the 60th to the 80th minute, I was thinking time should pass, time should pass. When the 80th minute came around, they (Qatar) were desperate and we got three to four counterattacks and I was like, Man! If we have 10 minutes more or 5 minutes more, we're gonna score".
"Trust me, if the game went on, we would've scored. They were on our box, they were dominating possession, but we would've scored. They were 2 vs 2, and twice a defender lunged at Udanta, we could've got a penalty and would've scored and won the game. But then, the thought of the Oman game would've killed us (laughs)."