INDIAN FOOTBALL

Sunil Chhetri may be in his final season

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March 15, 2023 IST – Calcutta : Chhetri, 38, will compete in his third continental tournament, the AFC Asian Cup, which will be held in Qatar in January of next year.

Sunil Chhetri is India’s talismanic striker. “may be playing the last season” of his remarkable career, said Indian football team head coach Igor Stimac. He hopes his star player would save his best for the last in the coming months.

The AFC Asian Cup, which will be held in Qatar from January 12 to February 10, is India’s next major task. After playing a key part in the qualifying competition here last year, the 38-year-old Chhetri is ready to compete in his third continental showpiece, the most by an Indian.

“Given his age, this will most likely be his final game. Sunil is obviously in his final season, and most likely in his final Asian Cup “Stimac said.

“I’m confident that the approaching months would be the finest for Sunil Chhetri,” he was reported as saying on the official website of the All India Football Federation (AIFF).

The national squad is now in town for a five-day training camp ahead of the Tri-Nation Football Tournament, which begins March 22 in Imphal.

Chhetri, the third most prolific international goal scorer after Cristiano Ronaldo (118) and Lionel Messi (98), was a member of the Indian teams that competed in the 2011 and 2019 Asian Cups.

Sunil Chhetri

Chhetri, 38, made his international debut in 2005. He was instrumental in Bengaluru FC reaching the Indian Super League final on Saturday.

“This season, Sunil Chhetri was nowhere to be seen. He was on the bench, waiting, preparing himself, striving to lose a few pounds, which is really tough to accomplish at this age,” said Stimac, who has been assigned the goal of reaching the Asian Cup quarterfinals if he wants to stay as coach beyond that tournament.”

Yet when it counted, he was there for his club, assisting them and leading them to the finals. He scored the most crucial goals.”

With 10 months till the Asian Cup, the 106th-ranked Blue Tigers will play their first international match since September when they face higher-ranked Kyrgyz Republic (94) and Burma (159) in Imphal.

In their most recent international matches, India drew 1-1 with Singapore and lost 0-3 to Vietnam.

Together with Chhetri, the Indian side features two more ageing stars in central defender Sandesh Jhingan and goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, and Stimac is fully aware that the core group of players will likely alter in the near future.

“We must recognise that some of them are now of a certain age. “It’s difficult to say, but goodbyes must be made at some point,” Croatia’s 1998 World Cup bronze medalist stated.

“Our team’s core strength is comprised of him (Chhetri), Sandesh (Jhingan), and Gurpreet (Singh Sandhu). I’ve never tried to hide it. “They are free individuals with excellent characteristics, strong mindsets, and a decent mentality, which is a basic base for us to develop the team upon. However, of course, we must consider their age. “Gurpreet and Sandesh might stay for four or five years,” he continued.

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‘There are Asian Cup berths open for everyone.’

For someone who has traditionally favoured to recruit from the top tier of the domestic system, Stimac stated that he would consider all players participating in Indian football, whether it be the Santosh Trophy or the I-League.

“The race for a spot in the final Asian Cup roster will last until the bitter end. The positions are accessible to everyone with an Indian citizenship, not only those competing in the Hero ISL.”. “Our focus is now on all Indian Football players, whether it’s the Santosh Trophy or the I-League”. Throughout the following nine months, our spy crew will go everywhere to observe everyone. We’re going to give everyone a chance who we believe can help us in the Asian Cup “The coach said.

Kalyan Chaubey is the President of the AIFF. He has stated that all events in the country, including the Santosh Trophy, should be considered for national team selection. The coach stated that both Kyrgyzstan and Myanmar will be difficult opponents in the Tri-Nation competition.

“Myanmar is the lowest-ranked country, but they have adjusted their strategy in recent years. They attempt to play middle-press football, which may be difficult “Stimac said.

Stimac

“Kyrgyz Republic is a well-organized team that plays high-quality football. They played fantastic football against a very tough and competitive Russian team. It’s going to be a lot of fun.

“We are the hosts, and we will do all in our power to win the event.” On March 19, national team players from ISL finalists ATK Mohun Bagan and Bengaluru FC will go to training. On March 21, the squad will depart for Imphal.

“Clearly, it’s not going to be easy since we have a lot of players who will be physically and psychologically weary after the ISL final.”

Because they will be defeated in the final. Half of them will be in a worse position. And it is my role to rejuvenate them, to assist them recover and regain the strength and capacity to play these two games and represent India in a tournament.

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