Two decades in Indian Football, and 84 goals for the Blue Tigers. Yet this is the first time that Blue Tigers legend Sunil Chhetri is playing a competitive match in Manipur, and his hunger to score for India is as high as it has ever been.
The mercurial striker, after joining the National Camp just a day after the ISL final, was on song for India, in the first Tri-Nation International Football Tournament match against Myanmar at the Khuman Lampak Stadium last week. Despite several efforts, a disallowed goal that left many questioning the off-side call on the India captain, was all he had to show for it.
However, the India number 11 is as motivated as ever ahead of the match against the Kyrgyz Republic, to bulge the back of the net at yet another stadium.
“My hunger to score is the same as it has always been, and it will be the same against the Kyrgyz Republic. Off-sides and penalty decisions are a part of the game, and you think about them for a certain amount of time, but then you move on and look forward to the next match,” said Chhetri to the-aiff.com. “What you rather do is to minimise mistakes and move on.
“I don’t want to sound pompous, but I feel that there aren’t many players who are as hungry to score as I am,” he said.
The man who has seen and done it all in Indian Football, after playing for the first time in Manipur, a state that has supplied countless players to the men’s and women’s National Teams, got a better understanding about the popularity of the beautiful game in the state.
“We got such amazing support from the crowd in the first game against Myanmar. This is the second time I have come here, and the first time that I’ve played in Imphal, but I understand why people of Manipur are crazy about football. I just hope that we can get a positive result against Kyrgyz Republic and hope we can give an amazing game to the people,” he said.
“I also saw a lot of travelling fans, as well as little girls and mothers come to the stands, and that is really good for the game.”
The India captain also spoke of the motivating effect these matches could have on the younger generation of players from the state.
“Many of us who have been playing for a long time, we’ve not been here to play, so seeing all the Indian Football stars gives the younger kids that extra motivation,” said Chhetri. “Even more than the others, seeing the likes of Suresh (Wnagjam), Jeakson (Singh), Yasir (Mohammad) could really motivate the kids here, though judging by the sheer number of quality players that come out of this state, they do not need as much motivation.
“I just hope that as a national team, we can give them that much more to help them dream more.”
India are currently sitting at the top of the table in the Tri-Nation International Football Tournament after a 1-0 win against Myanmar, and are followed by Kyrgyz Republic and Myanmar, who played out a 1-1 draw in their second match. However, Chhetri warned against complacency against the opponents on Tuesday.
“Kyrgyz Republic have physically strong and fast players. Don’t be fooled by what happened against Myanmar, because they are a top side. We have seen their last 10 games, and believe me when I say, they are a very good side,” he said.
“All the matches that we have played against them in the past have also been tough matches.”
While the India captain looks fully motivated ahead of the match against Kyrgyz Republic, he also conceded that joining the National Team camp straight after the ISL final which his side Bengaluru FC lost to ATK Mohun Bagan was a boon.
“The National Team camp gave us an outlet. If the camp wasn’t there, it would have been more difficult for us to cope. I can tell you that the boys who are not there, it’s much more difficult for them,” he said.
“It’s not a switch of a button, but when you have to take the flight the next day to the National Camp, it gives you a bit more in terms of what you are thinking. You come and see the setup and it takes your mind far from the loss, you start training, and your mind is further. After months of hard work, when you lose a final, you can go into a rabbit hole if you have time to think. But thankfully for us, we joined straight at the National Camp.”
India’s match against the Kyrgyz Republic will kick off at 6 pm IST and will be broadcast and streamed live on Star Sports 3 and Disney+ Hotstar, respectively.