Category: International

The final will be a different result, stresses Harambee Stars coach Migne

MUMBAI: Sometimes revenge has been the norm of football — the passion fueled with avenging a previous defeat rages like nothing other in an attempt to conquer the foe.

Ahead of Kenya’s summit clash against hosts India in the Intercontinental Cup slated to be played at the Mumbai Football Arena on Sunday Sebastian Migne, Head Coach of the Kenyan National Team said: “We will be out looking for a win against India. Although there is no revenge against any player, we would like to defeat India in the final.”

“I wanted to play the hosts in the final and I am happy that my players will be facing the team they lost to. But this time around it will be a different result,” he predicted.

The Harambee Stars had gone down 0-3 to India in the group league match, which incidentally was also Indian National Team Captain Sunil Chhetri’s 100th International match.

“We will go all out to win the Intercontinental Cup,” Migne stated.

One of the most senior players of the Kenyan National Team Jockins Atudo also reiterated the result will be “different” this time around.

“This time around it will be a different result — you just wait and see. We will play to beat India in India,” Atudo maintained.

Referring back to the 0-3 defeat against India, Migne quipped: “We were very much in the game till it was 0-0. We had two good chances to put the match to bed but we failed to take our chances and that is what happens when you don’t take your chances.”

“The penalty changed the game,” he explained. “We learnt our lessons and we have bolstered our ranks. But India has a really strong team that will test the best of our abilities.”

Our primary target is to win the tournament: Constantine

MUMBAI: A day prior to the much-awaited Intercontinental Cup final against Kenya, Indian National Team Head Coach Stephen Constantine stressed all that happened in the round robin stage “done and dusted” and the final is going to be a “new challenge.”

“What we did in the round robin stage is done and dusted but we cannot take anything for granted in the final. Kenya have shown what they are capable of, especially from set-piece positions. We totally respect them but at the same time our primary target is to win the tournament,” Constantine said at the official pre-match press conference at the Mumbai Football Arena today (June 9, 2018).

The final match is scheduled at the same venue tomorrow. The match which will kick-off at 8 pm.

The last time the two teams met in the group league stage, India had run away to emerge victors 3-0 after a goalless first-half. A brace from captain Sunil Chhetri in his 100th International match and a rasper from fellow striker Jeje Lalpekhlua had settled the issue for India on the day.

Won’t the victory provide India with a psychological advantage?

“The round robin stage is history now. We will start afresh tomorrow and try to win it,” Constantine maintained. “We had qualified after the first two games and it was important for us to give the other players an opportunity to play.”

Meanwhile, there are dark clouds overhead and there a forecast of torrential downpours tomorrow as well.

Former AIFF Academy cadet Anirudh Thapa who was also present at the press conference felt India need to “adapt to the condition faster.”

“We have to quickly adapt to the situation and will play accordingly. If there is water on the pitch, we have to adjust accordingly. The situation against Kenya was challenging but we coped up well. We’ll try to do the same tomorrow,” he quipped.

Meanwhile, Constantine cracked a joke that players “who can swim” will get a chance in the final.

“The players who can swim will get a chance tomorrow,” he laughed. “Jokes apart, the weather is something which we can’t control. I hope the ground condition improves. Whatever it is, we have to play according to the situation.”

Constantine picked up Sandesh Jhingan, Anas Edathodika and Thapa for special mention.

“This guy (pointing to Anirudh Thapa) has been outstanding so far. He can play in more than one position. If you talk of Pronay Halder, he can play as a defensive midfielder as well as a defender. The same applies for Dhanapal Ganesh as well who’s unfortunately ill. Also, Jerry can play as the left-back as well as upwards,” he pronounced. “The two central defenders in Sandesh (Jhingan) and Anas (Edathodika) have been outstanding for us and it is something we are happy about. You have to put the right people in the right place and this is what we are trying to do.”

“What we focus on is the work rate and the boy sitting next to me (Anirudh Thapa) has been terrific in his work rate. That’s the kind of player we need in this Indian National Team,” the coach clarified.

Intercontinental Cup 2018: Kenya ease Chinese Taipei to setup India final

MUMBAI: New Zealand have been knocked out of the Intercontinental Cup, after Kenya defeated Chinese Taipei 4-0 tonight to advance on goal difference.

The New Zealand side, who were impressive in their 2-1 win over the Blue Tigers last night, watched the match as a team which Kenya required a win of three goals or more to stay in the tournament.

The Harambee Stars achieved that with Odhiambo Dennis, Jockins Atudo (2) and Timothy Otieno all finding the back of the net in the second-half to book Kenya’s place in the final against India on Sunday at Mumbai Football Arena.

Odhiambo sent Kenya ahead in the 51st minute from close range following a corner kick by Ovella Ochieng.

Atudo then doubled Kenya’s lead only two minutes later from the spot after Piston Mutamba had been brought down in the box by Chinese Taipei goalkeeper Wen-Chieh Pan.

Otieno made it 3-0 in the 68th minute, latching onto a lose ball after Pan failed to clear his lines. A fourth would then come from Atudo with six minutes left on the clock.

Kenya consequently ends the four nation tourney placed second with six points, similar to New Zealand, but with a superior goal difference.

Intercontinental Cup 2018: All Whites stun Blue Tigers

MUMBAI: The left-foot of a 19-year old player of Indian origin Sarpreet Singh spurred New Zealand to a deserving 2-1 victory over India in the Intercontinental Cup at the Mumbai Football Arena on Thursday. Singh didn’t score but set up the two goals besides tormenting the Indians all throughout, right from the first minute itself.

A lucky goal from Sunil Chhetri has put India into the lead in the 48th minute but the Kiwis first restored parity through Andre Jong while substitute John Dyer sealed the fate in the 86th minute. Both Teams finished their league engagements on 6 points each.

The first-half saw New Zealand dominating all throughout and coming close but the Indians soaked in all the pressure, didn’t open up and managed to hold on. The trend continued even in the second and though the Indians fought back, New Zealand stayed the better team.

India made seven changes to the starting line-up from their last match against Kenya and that cost them dear. Three crosses in the first two minutes by Singh threatened to open up the Indian defence. But even as all of them dipped alarmingly, the defence didn’t allow the Kiwis to pull the trigger.

Perhaps, that was the indication of the things to come – the New Zealand gameplan.

The first card of the game came out in the 8th minute when Jai Ingham was booked for an off-the ball infringement on Ashique Kuruniyan.

It was evident the Kiwis had come with a strategy of ruffling the Indian defence with quick crosses and their first shy at the Indian goal came in the 12th minute but Andre Jong’s header sailed over. The Indian midfield looked awry and it allowed New Zealand to take it over.

With Md. Rafique playing in an unusual position on the right flank, the right side wasn’t quite functional in comparison to the previous two matches. Frustrated a bit, Narayan Das picked up a yellow card in the 15th minute.

The cheers went a bit louder in the 22nd minute when rival Goalkeeper Michael Woud fumbled a routine gathering allowing captain Sunil Chhetri to get it on the rebound. But an alert Woud managed to narrow it down and avert any danger.

Sarpreet was again at his menacing best in the 26th minute dipping another one which Ashique managed to head out. The next minute, rival captain Cameron Neru’s shot narrowly missed the mark.

The first change for India came in the 27th minute – Udanta Singh running onto the field to replace Rafique on the right flank. The Kiwis, meanwhile, continued to dominate dipping in those vicious crosses regularly — Sarpreet narrowly being denied in the 34th minute.

Had not Amrinder denied Nikko Boxall’s sharp header off the resultant corner, the Kiwis would have surged into the lead. Off the next build-up, Andre Jong, all in the clear, missed a free header — Sarpreet being the provider again. The Indians were clearly having problems dealing the nimble footed Sarpreet.

Frustration continued to creep in and in the 41st minute, Subhasish Bose picked up a yellow card for a bringing down Myer Bevan.

India didn’t come up with a promising counter-attack led by Chhetri. But after the one-two between Chetri and Udanta had initiated promise, Ashique couldn’t get past his marker in the box allowing the rival defence to recover fast.

In the 44th minute, Chhetri’s anticipation from no-where almost put India in the but even as he followed Balwant’s pass, his prompt volley just sailed over. That was India’s sole chance in the first-half as both sides headed to the interval locked goalless.

Changing over, India came up with three changes — Jeje Lelpekhlua was introduced – his 50th International match for India as he came in for Balwant; while Halicharan Narzary and Pronay Halder replaced Borges and Kuruniyan respectively.

India plucked up a goal from nowhere when in the 48th minute to surge into the lead when Chhetri followed by a back-pass to Woud and the latter’s clearance hit Chhetri’s outstretched leg and rolled into the net.

The joy, however, was short-lived. Sarpreet came up with a delectable pass to set Andre Jong in the clear who gleefully slotted it past Amrinder to restore parity off the next attack in the 49th minute.

In the 55th minute Bevan’s feint disbalanced Salam and Kotal had to plunge into a desperate tackle to deny him taking a shot but even as the referee pointed for a free-kick just at the edge of the box, the Indian wall stood in between.

Sarpreet, meanwhile was continuously creating ripples in the wings and every time he had the ball, there was a threat loomed.

In the 68th minute Chhetri tried to find someone in the box off a free-kick but the crowd of legs didn’t allow Halder to have a crack.

Halder’s inclusion did add the cushion in the midfield as his defensive qualities provided an insulation to the makeshift central defence, a quality which wasn’t present in the first-half. In the process it allowed Chhetri more share of the ball trying to open up the rival defence working in tandem with Udanta, Jeje and Halicharan. But the Kiwi defence was too tight to be torn apart.

The Kiwis who were constantly pressing were eventually rewarded in the 86th minute — this time too Sarpreet laying John Dyer on a platter to tap it past Amrinder.

He Urged and They Responded

MUMBAI: Last year in the mid-August there were few football fans marching towards the Mumbai Football Arena just below the DN Nagar Metro station in Andheri – the Mumbai suburb area in an unexpected rain. There were few people travelling through that route were discussing among themselves ‘itne barish me ye pagal log konsa match dekhne ja rahe hai bhai’ (In this heavy rain, which match these mad people are going to watch? It was obvious. It was neither a cricket match nor a Kabaddi match. It was a football match and that too, a friendly match.

The 2017 Hero Tri-Nation Series between host India, Saint Kitts and Nevis and Mauritius was held by All India Football Federation (AIFF) on a short notice where India lacked the availability of Sunil Chhetri who has a commitment with his club Bengaluru FC. And it was not surprising that spectators in the stadium were hardly few hundred.

In India, if you ask a kid which is your favourite sports, the automatic answer will be cricket. Though it may vary from city to city, but cricket is the most followed sports in India. There are few other sports which Indian sports follow like Kabaddi, Soccer (not India football, mostly European leagues), WWE and some other. But when it comes to Indian football, it always remains unnoticeable.

Sunil Chhetri, Indian football’s modern-day idol, begged eagerly to Indian fans to turn up and they did. On the historic occasion of his 100th cap for blue jersey, he appealed fans through social media and there were almost no seats vacant in the stands on Mondayevening at the Mumbai Football Arena. It was the first rain in the city and crowd were enjoying every drop of the rain with heroics of Chhetri and his blue army. Chhetri though did not disappoint 9,000 odd fans in the stadiums as India trashed Kenya 3-0 in the match where Chhetri himself scored two goals.

“I don’t feel we should be begging people to watch the national team. The response has been unbelievable. When the national team has been playing the manner we have been playing in the last three years it was disappointing to see the turnout in the first match. I expect the stands to be full in the next two matches,” he stated after the match, as per the AIFF press release.

For the next matches (against New Zealand on June 7 and the final on June 10 where India have booked their place) all the tickets are sold out.

That level of engagement brought memories back of an era when football following community in India was eagerly waiting to switch their television sets on at midnight to see how their teams in Spanish and European leagues are getting on. It is not the first time Indian crowd turned to cheer up their teams in house-full stadiums. There was an era when 40,000-45,000 used to pack into the stadiums for Sait Nagjee Trophy and the Nehru Cup. Even for the Indian Super League (ISL) the South Indian derby – Kerala Blasters FC and Chennaiyin FC has been seen in packed stadiums. It may be due to the involvement of foreign players to whom Indian footballs fans are following for years. But the Indian crowd loved enjoying football games.

So, the Monday’s game was a welcome gesture for Indian football. The game’s development which is in its prime note in last three years was underestimated by the fans has started to begin a new era in Indian sports history. Chhetri may have grabbed the headlines, but Jeje Lalpekhlua and Udanta Singh’s attack on opponents and Sandesh Jhingan’s intervention displayed this game is not just about the goals alone.

Hope, Indian football fans will continue their love to their blue army like this, and we won’t be a surprise that Indian fans turning in numbers to upcoming 2019 AFC Asia Cup in UAE.

Intercontinental Cup 2018: Blue Tigers focusing on getting the job done

MUMBAI: Two back to back victories in the ongoing Intercontinental Cup seem to have made the Indian National Team more determined to “keep the ball rolling.”

“We have started off in an exquisite manner but now the challenge is to get the job done in the same fashion. The momentum needs to be sustained and we have to overcome New Zealand next, and then the final,” defender Subhashish Bose utters,

India who sit pretty on 6 points from 2 matches play New Zealand in their next league of the tournament tomorrow at the Mumbai Football Arena.

Striker Balwant Singh, who has been a revelation in the National Team since his return to the squad last year at the tri-nation tournament also at the Mumbai Football Arena also stays aware the “fresh challenge.”

“We have pulled off back-to-back wins but a fresh challenge lies ahead. We have to keep our head down and continue working. We are a confident bunch of lads and we hope we continue the job,” he maintains. Singh came off the bench the other night to lay it for Chhetri to score India’s third goal against Kenya in the last match.

Speaking at a media interaction prior the team’s practice session, winger Halicharan Narzary said, “Obviously we will be playing for a win against New Zealand, but it will not be easy. It will be remarkable if we win all of our three matches going ahead into the finals of the Cup and keep the winning momentum alive till the finals”

Post the two back to back victories, the team was involved in a recovery session at the pool and team meetings. The squad also went through a practice session at the Mumbai Football arena this evening.

“We are working as a unit and I, personally, feel confident to score more. As a striker, utilising opportunities and scoring goals is of paramount importance and I won’t compromise with that,” Balwant informs.

Subhashish feels the AFC Asian Cup will be a “huge platform” for the team.

“The AFC Asian Cup is going to be a huge platform for us where we have to be absolutely at the top of our game. This tournament has been going well so far and hopefully, we’ll leave Mumbai with some extra baggage,” he smiles.

Narzary adds: “The Intercontinental Cup is a very important tournament for us and before the AFC Asian Cup it will be a good platform to test ourselves against some of the teams of different playing styles of the elite level, that we don’t come across often”

Barely a veteran of two International matches, Subhashish is happy to having contributed for the team’s cause. “It’s so satisfying to have played my heart out to help us register back-to-back clean-sheets. But it was the defence line led by Sandesh-bhai and Anas-bhai who made it possible. Not to forget that had not Gurpreet-paaji not pulled off those marvellous saves, clean-sheets wouldn’t have been possible at all,” he quips.

Halicharan lauded skipper Sunil Chhetri as a motivation for every young football in the nation and said, “Sunil bhai is an inspiration in himself and he has been a role model for every young player in India. It is a joyous moment for Indian football that a legend has played 100 matches and I wish he will play even more in the coming years”

“We wanted to give Sunil-bhai a gift on his 100th International Cap and that gift was qualifying to play in the final of the Intercontinental Cup and defeat Kenya. Now we will take one match at a time and aim to win the Cup”, he further added.

Intercontinental Cup 2018: New Zealand edge Chinese Taipei to stay alive

MUMBAI: New Zealand edged past Chinese Taipei 1-0 on Tuesday to keep themselves alive in the ongoing Intercontinental Cup 2018.

Both teams came into the game desperate for their first win of the tournament, after New Zealand had been beaten 2-1 by Kenya while Chinese Taipei went down 5-0 to India.

In a tight game which could have gone either way Myer Bevan’s 36th-minute penalty proved the difference after a thrilling 90 minutes at the Mumbai Football Arena.

The first-half proved to be a tense and exciting affair with both teams having their moments in attack although there were not many clear chances on goal.

The All Whites started the match on the front foot and Jai Ingham had a sniff on goal after 12 minutes when a weak back-pass let him in, but Chinese Taipei goalkeeper Pan Wen-Chieh reacted smartly to snuff out the danger.

Chinese Taipei, came back into the game as their pacey midfielders William Donkin, Lin Chang-lun and Chu En-Le threatened with their direct running, even though it didn’t result in many chances to open the score.

Instead, it was New Zealand who got a penalty in the 36th minute when Tzu-Kuei Hung fouled Sarpreet Singh inside the box and Bevan’s well-taken spot-kick saw the All Whites into the break with a slender lead

Chinese Taipei started somewhat better in the second-half, but were unable to really stretch the All Whites defense and create scoring chances from open play. However, Donkin twice threatened from free-kicks.

More and more Chinese Taipei started to build up pressure on the New Zealand defense. Chen Chao-an came on for Chen Hao-wei in the 58th minute and the winger helped Chinese Taipei get some momentum going forward.

Li Mao came close to scoring with a shot from the edge of the box, but New Zealand goalkeeper made a fine save.

Meanwhile, New Zealand had a golden chance to wrap up the game in the 74th minute when Ingham pinched the ball off Chen Ting-yang and headed toward goal, but the defender got back to make a risky challenge and did just enough to deny the striker.

Chinese Taipei, thereafter, continued to put pressure and there was another goal scoring opportunity in the 87th minute but Chu En-Le failed to hit the target from inside the box.

It was a much improved performance for Chinese Taipei in the second-half, but it wasn’t enough to get the much-needed three points.

Intercontinental Cup 2018: New Zealand seek improvement against Chinese Taipei

MUMBAI: New Zealand head coach Fritz Schmid has called for his young team to be more clinical in their second game of the Intercontinental Cup.

The All Whites, who dominated their opening game against Kenya before going down 2-1 at the Mumbai Football Arena, take on Chinese Taipei in what shapes as must-win match for both teams to stay alive in the tournament.

India defeated Kenya 3-0 last night in Monsoon-like conditions to remain unbeaten which means Kenya, New Zealand and Chinese Taipei are fighting for the final place in the final on 10 June.

Meanwhile, Chinese Taipei are looking to bounce back after they went down 5-0 to tournament hosts India in the opening game.

Schmid said his team learned a great deal from their narrow loss to Kenya and he wants to see those learnings put into practice tonight.

“Obviously we were disappointed coming away from the game against Kenya with empty hands, but on the other side we analysed our performance and also made our players very aware, there were a lot of good elements in the game and in our structure,” said Schmid. “The goal is soon enough that we have to get some sort of result out of it.”

Schmid said he and his technical staff learned that they have a team that has plenty of good qualities and they have a team that can put certain elements on the pitch.

They had a good week of training in Auckland and some decent days training in Mumbai, considering the conditions and the climate. “I could see that the boys are willing and also capable, the have the qualities to put our plan into practice”.

The frustrating part, from a New Zealand point of view, was despite dominating the game for long periods and being the better team in the first half they did not manage to secure a result from the game.

There were a handful of good scoring opportunities in the first-half which were not converted aside from Sarpreet Singh who finished a fine strike for his first goal for the All Whites.

“We also learned a very old story that if you are in control of the game and you create scoring opportunities then you better put one or the other in the back of the net because it might cost you. With our mistakes we invited them back into the game and they benefited from it,” said Schmid.

“Confronting an experienced team like Kenya, who have an average age of 26, and we are a young team on the pitch and that is exactly what we are looking for. You learn most from failure and as much as it hurts, and as much as we would like to have a positive result, I hope that will stick and we have an opportunity to show how we can improve certain aspects.”

The All Whites final pool game of the tournament is on Thursday night against India.

Intercontinental Cup 2018: Chhetri brace helps India beat Kenya 3-0

MUMBAI: Perhaps it was his destiny, or perhaps it was the moment or perhaps it was written in the stars. In his 100th International match, Sunil Chhetri scored a brace to lead India to a 3-0 win over Kenya in India’s second match of the Intercontinental Cup at the Andheri Sports Complex in Mumbai, Maharashtra today.

Chhetri’s penalty strike in the 68th minute and a peach of a goal in added extra time alongwith Jeje Lalpekhlua’s 71st minute strike enabled India to outmanoeuvre Kenya in a tough contest.

The thunderous outpour of rain at the Andheri Sports Complex made life difficult for both the teams and both adjusted to playing on a wet surface in the opening minutes, with neither taking the risk of attacking.

A freekick for India went directly into the gloves of the Kenyan custodian whilst on the other end, although Kenya pumped bodies into the Indian defending half, were unable to create a clear scoring opportunity infront of goal. With Kenya, attacking from distance and accumulating corner’s to test India’s pedigree in set pieces, the defensive line of Sandesh Jhingan and Anas thwarted any dangerous chances for the opposition.

In the 22nd minute, Chhetri, making history by becoming the second Indian ever to bag 100 International caps, had an opportunity to put India ahead. But, Chhetri’s shot from distance after Jeje had caused panic in the opposition defence, went inches over the bar.

Three minutes later, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu was called onto action and the lanky goalkeeper dived at full stretch to keep a rasping shot from distance out.

Udanta Singh proved to be a threat down the flanks and his outburst of speed caught the Kenyan defence offguard often. In the 44th minute, Udanta danced past the Kenyan defences on the flanks but his final cross lacked the venom for the waiting Sunil Chhetri in the box as Kenya cleared their lines.

Both teams went into the tunnel at half-time on level pegging with the scoreline reading 0-0.

Changing over, Kenya almost gave India a scare in the 49th minute when Ovella Ochieng burst through the centre of the Indian defence but could only shoot inches wide of the goal. In the 55th minute, India had a golden opportunity to take the lead but Chhetri failed to make proper connection with on a volley after a Halicharan cross from the flanks.

With the momentum in India’s favour, Constantine’s men kept on attacking and in the 63rd minute Pronoy Halder’s shot almost took the lead for India but some acrobatic goalkeeping by the Kenyan custodian kept his shot at bay.

Cometh the moment, cometh the man and in the 68th minute, Chhetri scored in his 100thInternational cap, courtesy of a penalty kick to give India a solitary goal lead. In the 71st minute, Jeje hammered home from close range to double India’s lead over Kenya after a quick play on the flanks to make most of India’s attacking momentum.

In the dying embers of the match, Chhetri burst onto the opposition goal and in an exquisite manner chipped the ball over the onrushing goalkeeper to finish a sublime move into the back of the net, giving India a 3-0 lead. With his second goal of the match, Chhetri scored his 61st goal in International football in 100 International matches.

The Indian defence line contained the Kenya initiatives to reduce the deficit and kept the Kenyan forwards at bay as the full-time scoreline read 3-0 in India’s favour.

I had a dream but never dreamt of playing 100 matches for India says Chhetri

MUMBAI: “I had a dream but never dreamt of playing 100 International matches. This is unbelievable,” National Team captain Sunil Chhetri said prior to Team India’s practice session at the Mumbai Football Arena on Sunday (June 3, 2018).

“Honestly, I never think much about milestones. It was only when I was having a chat with my mom the other night that she became a bit emotional. How big it was for her made me realise how big the occasion is,” he stated.

“I need to thank my parents, friends, family, all my coaches, players, fans, media for their support in my journey in being able to be the second person in history play 100 International matches for my country. It feels special,” he added. “I just feel I will be able to keep my emotions under control, play the game as we should, stick to the plan and try to win the game for the country.”

Chhetri’s is the 2nd Indian after his ‘mentor’ Bhaichung Bhutia to achieve the feat.

Referring to his ‘mentor’ Bhutia’s accolades for Chhetri evolving as a player, the ‘disciple’ said that “as players grow older they start filtering stuff.”

“Once you grow older and you play more, you understand what’s not good for you rather than what works for u. As you grow older you tend to start filtering stuff which is not needed and which is not important for you. That’s what is learnt. So I do the things which work for me. It’s monotonous but I hope it continues,” he informed.

“I still remember my first match for India. We were in Pakistan and Nabi-da (Syed Rahim Nabi) and I were the rookies. We were kind of chilling knowing that we may not be fielded. But Sukhi-sir (Sukhwinder Singh) made both of us to start the game. I scored a goal and all in euphoria I ran to the Pakistani fans and started to celebrate,” he smiled. There was laughter all around in the room.

The Captain admitted there has been a “steady growth” in Indian Football since that first day he wore the National shirt.

“We are on the right path. There has been a steady growth and we need to go far. Rubbing shoulders with the best will help us improve further,” he opined.

India sit pretty at the top of the four-team in the Hero Intercontinental Cup after their facile 5-0 victory over Chinese Taipei in the first match.

“As a player, you are lucky if you get tougher games and the toughest one will be against Kenya tomorrow (June 4, 2018). The matches coming up the next day are always the toughest. The Asian Cup in UAE will also be very tough,” he maintained.

“As a player, I have been in many a tough match. The games against South Korea, Australia and Bahrain in the 2011 Asian Cup were so tough. We played Japan in Bengaluru and that was tough too,” he recollected.

“Sometimes I feel the importance of the match makes it tougher. The matches against Myanmar (away in Yangon) and the home-match against the Kyrgyz Republic were tough on our road to qualification for the UAE Asian Cup.”

Dubbed as the “true leader” of the team, Chhetri said he enjoys the competition against the youngsters in his quest to get fitter and better. “I feel good when I speak with Udanta (Singh) and sprint with him; I feel good when I try to get past Sandesh (Jhingan); I feel good when I try to score against the big wall (Gurpreet Singh Sandhu). All of them are true professionals,” he declared.

“The desire in the present squad makes it special. The camaraderie is great and there is not a single ego clash within. There’s an ardent desire to improve and it’s really good to lead this bunch of players,” he stated. “We have the desire and the talent. We need to keep working hard.”

“I always try to be a good example. I have understood that lectures don’t work. If I go up to Udanta and say to him about the importance of being on time, the importance of hitting the gym, maybe he will not take me seriously. Instead, I try to do it for myself so that the boys can follow. That’s so satisfying,” he nodded.

“It gives me immense joy that Jeje (Lalpekhlua) who started in front of my eyes just the other day is now 2 short of 50 International matches. The effort to improve yourself is the hallmark of the squad,” he certified.

Chhetri also mentioned about his love affair with Kolkata. “I feel special about Kolkata. I can’t feel more proud. It was a huge feeling to sign for Mohun Bagan and then play for East Bengal. I cherish the love which I have got from both the clubs.”