Representing your country in any sport is always a matter of pride. Playing against Pakistan donning your national Jersey is something more special, given the history between the neighbours. Just hours away from captaining the side against the Shaheens, Sunil Chhetri, India’s record goal scorer, has elucidated the expectations of playing against Pakistan and their mindset while preparing for this all important bilateral series.
“There’s no denying it’s different. Even as we players term or take it as just another match, you can never ignore that there are so many emotions involved in this match. Every time the two countries play against each other in any sport it may be, the mood stays different. And however hard, you may try to evade it you can never ignore this fact. And it applies to both the teams,” replied Chhetri, to the All India Football Federation’s (AIFF) official media channel, when asked if playing against Pakistan was similar to playing any other international opposition.
Being Pakistan’s first time on Indian soil, Chhetri was asked about the historical relevancy of this event to which he surmised, “History will determine as to how historical this is. But this is certainly big. History will also tell you that sports has always been the binding factor in promoting bilateral relations between two countries. It’s important to build relationship via sports, especially with your neighbouring countries. There is nothing political in this -- we are taking it as a sporting event.
"We wholeheartedly welcome the Pakistan contingent to India and hope they have a great stay and two matches for all to remember as history. We are looking forward to meet and greet them.”
“All the matches that I have played against them have been much more than a normal game and both the sides stay aware of it. We would like to give our best and it applies to our friends from Pakistan as well. For them too, this is a special game. An Indo-Pak clash is always special,” elucidated the striker.
Quizzed on how big an influence he was on the Indian youngsters, Chhetri was philosophical and explained, “I have tried to talk and share as much as I can with all. In fact, I am emulating exactly what my seniors did to me when I was a junior guy. The idea is not to behave like a cliché senior but gel with everyone. It’s a team sport and everyone learns from everyone.
“The orthodox fact of behaving like ‘seniors’ doesn’t stay in my dictionary and my doors stay open for everyone as much the doors of Francis (Fernandes) and Robin (Singh) stay open for all too.”
Finally he concluded on the training and preparation for the tie by explaining, “It’s been progressive which is very important. All the players were coming from different I-League teams and had a different style of play with their respective clubs.
“We have been fortunate enough to prepare for long and these two upcoming matches against Pakistan would be an indicator as to where we are exactly placed prior to the tour to China and more importantly, the big test in the Asian Games in Incheon.”