Captain Sunil Chhetri hailed India’s “massive” win over Kyrgyz Republic in Tuesday’s 2019 AFC Asian Cup qualifier as “one of the best performances” in his 12-year international career as Stephen Constantine’s side edged closer to the finals in the United Arab Emirates.
Chhetri’s superb 69th minute strike at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru, which the striker started on the edge of his own penalty area and finished in eye-catching style after exchanging passes with Jeje Lalpekhlua, handed India a second win of the campaign.
And with Myanmar beating Macau 4-0 away from home, India find themselves three points clear at the top of Group A and on course for a return to the AFC Asian Cup finals for just a fourth time having failed to qualify for Australia in 2015.
“I have played for the national team for the last 12 years and this is by far one of the best performances. We got battered by the coach at half-time as in the first-half we gave them the ball. We showed character and came back,” said 32-year-old national icon Chhetri.
“What a performance from everyone right from goalkeeper to every player and this is by far one of the best games I played in my career.”
Chhetri’s 54th goal in 94 international matches followed netting the only goal in March’s win over Myanmar, which arrived courtesy of a dramatic 91st minute winner in Yangon.
“The goal is right up there. These three points at this juncture are massive,” added Bengaluru FC striker Chhetri.
“This goal was one part of what we did, that’s why the goal is important. I can’t tell you how important it is. I hope we qualify for the Asian Cup.”
Chhetri’s 50-yard solo run which turned a defensive situation into an attacking threat in a matter of seconds highlighted India’s determination to return to the AFC Asian Cup for the first since 2011 as the striker evaded two challenges soon after stealing possession.
He then raced up field, despite having missed last week’s 2-0 friendly win over Nepal as a precaution due to an injury, and fired a superb half volley into the bottom corner from inside the penalty area after finding himself on the end of Lalpekhlua’s deft chipped pass.
“I got the tackle the first time, I could have taken a tumble, but I told myself ‘don’t fall’,” said Chhetri.
“I got a tackle the second time, I told myself ‘don’t fall’. I gave it to Jeje, and got a good ball back, scored and it’s a good feeling.”
India have now won eight consecutive games in all competitions under English coach Constantine, with Macau next up in Group A in September 2017.
“Credit goes to the boys as it was absolutely a team performance from the beginning to the end. We rode our luck in the first half, then Chhetri made an unbelievable run just like he did in Myanmar,” said Constantine, who was appointed India coach for a second time in January 2015.
“I told them they were better in the first 45 minutes. I have a lot of faith in the players and yet again we proved it. I knew they were a very good team and it was a difficult game, but we didn’t stop for a minute. A 1-0 win I will take that every time.”
“I am pleased for all Indians. Six points and now take a breather, and then we need another six I guess,” Constantine added.