The Indian Football Team has scored three goals in their last three matches in the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers and two of them have come through Sunil Chhetri. The other was an own goal as India held Afghanistan to a 1-1 draw in their last fixture.
Sunil Chhetri has been active on the international circuit for the last 16 years and continues to perform at a very high level. However, the Indian Football Team are yet to find his successor. Whenever the Blue Tigers need to score a goal, they continue to expect him to provide it.
Gouramangi Singh, a former Indian football team defender and current FC Bengaluru United first team coach, feels having Sunil Chhetri in their ranks gives the team a huge advantage. But, when asked if India was overdependent on the 36-year-old, he said:
"I don't like to use the term overdependent. At the end of the day, if we win or lose, it's a team effort. Yes, there are certain times where Sunil being Sunil can help us. There is nothing wrong in being dependent on him because he has scored 70+ international goals for the country in these years."
Gouramangi Singh believes that the likes of Bipin Singh, Brandon Fernandes, Manvir Singh, and Ashique Kuruniyan should make the most out of Sunil Chhetri's services while he is still around with the Indian football team.
"Even if we can have 4-5 players with the quality of Sunil (Chhetri) and his experience around it, we can be a much stronger team. When Sunil is around, Bipin (Singh), Brandon (Fernandes), Manvir (Singh) and Ashique (Kuruniyan) need to step up. Learn all the tricks from him. Try to understand why he has been around for so long. I don't know the secret but playing with him for so many years, I can say he is extremely hardworking. There is no question regarding his dedication or abilities to find ways to motivate himself everyday. He keeps going and competes with all the younger boys every day. That's what makes him different and is why considered to be an inspiration," Gouramangi Singh further added.
'Boys worked hard even for that one point': former Indian Football Team defender Gouramangi Singh
Afghanistan dominated proceedings from open play against the Blue Tigers and enjoyed more possession as well. But, it was the Indian football team that took the lead after the opposition goalkeeper gifted them an easy own goal in the 75th minute.
Seven minutes later, Afghanistan bounced back into the game, courtesy of an impeccable goal from Hossein Zamani. When asked if the Indian Football Team were lucky to get away with a point, Gouramangi Singh replied:
"I can't say exactly if we are lucky or not because football is a very funny game. On a given day, it is very unpredictable. You and I watch the game on television and after the match we can keep our comments and opinions. But you and I are not part of the preparation or planning. Even in the dressing room or the meeting room where the coach and staff discuss things or prepare the things, we don't know about it. Yes, the expectation was to win the game. It didn't happen. But it's never easy. We expected more and even I expected more. But the boys worked hard even for that one point and we need to respect that."
Going into the match, the Indian Football Team needed a draw to finish third in their 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers group and sneak through to the third round of the 2023 AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers.
"Yes, the coach said we will play for the win. But sometimes these little things play in our mind. A lot of factors play out and so I don't want to jump to conclusions. But one point was enough to qualify which we got," Gouramangi Singh concluded.
A day later, the AFC announced that all the third and fourth-placed teams alongside the three best fifth-placed teams have achieved direct qualification to the third round of the 2023 AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers.
Securing direct qualification was a step forward for the Indian football team after contesting a play-off fixture against Laos to qualify for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup. They won the fixture and followed it up by topping their qualifying group, which comprised of Myanmar, Macau, and Kyrgyzstan. It remains to be seen if the Blue Tigers can qualify for the continental extravaganza again.