Stephen Constantine’s men take on Myanmar in a fifth-round AFC Asian Cup 2019 qualifier match on November 14 in Goa. With four back to back wins already, Indians have already booked a berth in the finals of the competition.
Ahead of their match, skipper Sunil Chhetri addressed the media at the pre-match press conference and on missing in-form striker Balwant Singh due to injury, Chhetri opined, “I hope not. Balwant was doing very good for us. He is an asset to have in your team, especially in the last one year that he had a great season. I just hope that the ones who are getting an opportunity in place of Balwant live up to the expectations. I hope that we don't miss Balwant.
The last time India took part in the Asian Cup was back in 2011. Sunil was an integral part of that squad. On comparisons with 2011 squad, he said, “It's completely different. Only me, Subrata and a young Gurpreet were there. So the team is completely different. The happiness is that same. We are really happy to qualify as we worked really hard.”
Chhetri, who will turn 35 in 2019, remained unworried about losing his place. He said,“If you ask me personally, I am not worried. I will never be worried. My work is to give my best and I will do that. If after doing everything, I am not selected, so be it.
“As far as youngsters are concerned, I wish them all the luck. More the competition, the better for the gaffer. The more players doing well, better for the Indian team. If you ask me individually, I'm not going anywhere, my friend.”
India’s form in the qualifiers has been remarkable so far. They registered four wins on the trot and looked the best team in the group by a margin. Speaking about the victories, Sunil said, “Realistically, no. If I have to be honest, we had a chat the gaffer (Constantine) talked about taking one game at a time. He never spoke about when we are going to qualify and in which game. The mantra was very clear that we are going to take one game at a time.
“We worked really very hard, especially to win the first two games which gave us the setup for where we are today. As a team, right from our head coach to the ball boy, everyone has worked very hard. We didn't think that we are going to qualify after four games because the group is very tough.
“Tomorrow you are going to see how tough Myanmar is. That was one of the key wins. Myanmar was a very tough opponent and we are really relieved to get three points from that game.”
A last minute goal from the captain himself assured India full three points in the very first match of the qualifiers against Myanmar back in March. Recalling that match, Chhetri pointed out how good their opponents are.
“They had the ball. The game was very difficult but I would take three points any day. I would take the other team having the ball and us getting three points. That's what we did and we qualified now. I'm not trying to say anything to the opposing team but it was a difficult game.We played two games there against Myanmar. We lost 1-0 before and won 1-0. It's always close. They are a difficult team to play, especially at their home, and even they play well tomorrow and we get three points, I would happily take it,” concluded Sunil.