It was a fascinating journey for the Indian football team at the SAFF Championships in the Maldives. The Blue Tigers lifted their eighth title while it was the first major title under Croatian head coach Igor Stimac. Despite starting slow and coming up with two consecutive draws, the Indians found themselves in a spot of bother. Especially after the 0-0 draw against Sri Lanka which saw heavy criticism coming their way.
But things changed when Farukh Choudhury’s flick found captain Sunil Chhetri in the box and the Indian talisman made no mistake to score the goal against Nepal. That particular goal was enough for Stimac’s men to keep their hopes alive. It was from there the team started turning around. They produced a great attacking display against the hosts, Maldives winning the game 3-1 and qualifying for the finals. The finals were a completely different story as India ran riot against Nepal by winning 3-0.
Indian talisman Sunil Chhetri who was crucial to India’s turnaround in this tournament ended up as the tournament’s highest goalscorer with five goals to his name. After the win, Chhetri shared this tournament has been a great learning curve for the youngster who featured as they will only look to improve from here onwards.
He quipped how India starting poorly made things even more difficult for them. But he is happy how the team has reacted to those results only to come back to win the title. He highlighted how wins against Nepal and the Maldives were crucial during that stage which allowed them to get to the tournament finals.
Chhetri, 36 is the most experienced guy in the Indian dressing room which is mostly filled with young players. Most of the youngsters consider him as their idols and listen to everything that he says on and off the field. Chhetri highlights how some of the young players are born in the year 2002, it was the same year when he started playing football.
“I’m just too old for them. Some of the boys are born in 2002, that’s when I started playing. So, I’m just too old and I think they have no choice but to listen to me. I try to use my experience, sometimes probably I go emotional, but just me being there and trying to guide them, helps us a lot,” Chhetri explained.
Lastly the Indian talisman shared how the players will analyse their weaknesses and look to work on those aspects from this tournament. For now the players will join their respective clubs for the preseason. He also shed light on the Asian Cup qualifiers which will be very tough for the Blue Tigers.
“I’m pretty sure we’ll go back and analyse so many things that we can improve on. We’ve got Asian Cup Qualifiers coming up which is not going to be easy. Today, we want to enjoy and celebrate. But, just from tomorrow, we’re going to start thinking about it. We all go back to our clubs and train hard. And whenever we come back to the national team, we just want to give our best,” Chhetri concluded.