Tuesday, July 23, 2024

It’s not about me and my last match: Chhetri on eve of international retirement


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Kolkata, June 5: Indian football team talisman Sunil Chhetri on Wednesday played down the hype around his last international match and sought to bring the focus back to the team’s crucial FIFA World Cup Qualifier against Kuwait here.
A win on Thursday will almost guarantee the Indian team a maiden appearance in the third round of the FIFA World Cup, the finals of which are scheduled to be held in USA, Canada and Mexico in 2026.
Chhetri last month announced that the second leg match against Kuwait would be his last in international football, having enjoyed a glorious career spanning 19 years.
“I think most of us have met already 20 days back and we have spoken about my last game. That’s done,” Chhetri said on the eve of the second round match.
“We are here only and only to speak about Kuwait and India and I’m trying really hard to not think about this game like this.”
An emotional Chhetri requested the scribes not to keep asking him about his retirement “again and again” so that they can play with a free mind.
“I again request… it’s not about me and my last name, it’s about us and Kuwait. And inside me I’m fighting a small battle, please don’t make it worse asking ‘how are you feeling’, again and again.
“Only you guys who are putting this question… We don’t talk about it in the dressing room. We are still the same, we are still having fun. There is not a talk about the last game, we are done with it.
“We really need to win this game. Once we win this game, it gives us a great chance to go to the third round, which we have never done.
“So all our might, everything that we have is just pointed towards fighting it out, because one thing we know for sure, this is not going to be easy.
“And one thing we are very happy is that we are playing in Kolkata, we are going to have tremendous support. So it’s going to be a battle, and the good thing is we are all ready.”
Asked if he would reconsider his plan if they qualify for the third round, the 39-year-old champion striker, in a lighter vein, said the “suits are ready for him to travel with the team as a fan and watch the boys play”.
“No sir, the suits are made, I’m going to go and watch the boys play as a fan. I’m not somebody who just says something that comes on his mind, I might look like that but I think a lot and I’ve given it my thought. It’s been 19 years I had a great ride, and this is it.”
“It’s not a joke, I’m highly grateful, it’s the right time, there couldn’t be a better game to call it my last. I’m at peace.”
The game against Kuwait holds a lot of significance as India are coming off a shocking 1-2 loss against lower-ranked Afghanistan in a home leg tie in Guwahati in March, a result that was panned by the fans and critics of Indian football.
“I’ve played worse sometimes, I played good but I just had a great ride. On that note I just want to say, imagine in the third round India playing against Japan and Australia and what the whole euphoria is going to be.
“Probably we might reach there or we might not but the effort has to be there so that we can reach there,” he said.
‘Things will change’
A qualification to the third round will put India in the bracket of top 18 teams in Asia and they will vie for the eight coveted spots for the 2026 World Cup. The 18 teams will be divided into three groups of six sides each and will play on a home-away basis.
“I’ve worked 19 years for the national team and we have not been in this position before. I can feel goose bumps but I want the boys to be relaxed tomorrow.
“But this is huge because once we win it, you know what’s there in store, things will change. It’s going to be magical also. No pressure on us but one thing is for sure we want to give everything tomorrow. Hope all of us can enjoy tomorrow.
‘Don’t come back again’
Chhetri further said the NexGen strikers “can’t wait” to take up the role of No 9. Chhetri, though, dons No 11.
“Manvir (Singh) can’t wait, I’m sure Siva (Sivasakthi Narayanan), can’t wait, Parthib (Gogoi)… I see Rahim (Ali) staring at my eyes and asking, ‘pakka aap wapas nahin aaoge na…’ (You’re not coming back right).
“They know the door is now open. There are so many who can do well and they can’t wait they just want ‘ek baar apne bol diya dobara mat ana galti se ab’ (once you have announced it don’t come back my mistake),” he said.
‘No’ to coaching
Asked whether he contemplates taking up coaching role in future, Chhetri came up with a big “no” and, sitting beside coach Igor Stimac, he said, “I don’t want to age faster like him.” “Five years back I saw this man come, he was very good looking, young and now look at him after five years. He has aged 15 years in five years.
“I don’t think I can be a coach because I’m too selfish and I want to think about myself. Honestly, I want to think about myself, I don’t want to think about anything else, my game and stuff.
“It is not easy… enough of putting an alarm and waking up at 5’o clock, enough of the match, permutations, this match and that match.” Stimac ended the conversation by saying, “I hope to see you as the (All India Football Federation) president one day.” (PTI)


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