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‘Was tense ahead of Vietnam game’

India’s only hattrick man of the millennium Sunil Chhetri attributed the muted celebration after his goals against Vietnam to being tense and aware of not having lived up to expectations. Dhiman Sarkar reports. Hattricks since 2000

sports Updated: Oct 11, 2010 01:58 IST
Dhiman Sarkar

India’s only hattrick man of the millennium Sunil Chhetri attributed the muted celebration after his goals against Vietnam to being tense and aware of not having lived up to expectations.

“I missed a sitter against Thailand away and a couple when we hosted them. Against Hong Kong, I missed many and we lost a match we should have won. With N.P. Pradeep, Steven (Dias) and Bhaichung (Bhutia), our main scorers, injured, I think I have a greater responsibility. I was really tense going into the game,” Chhetri told Hindustan Times over the phone from Pune.

“It was more a sense of relief than joy after the first goal. Also, if you noticed, no one really went overboard. It was almost as if my teammates were expecting me to finally score.”

That he did and the squad partied to enjoy the 3-1 win in Pune. “We go out after every game but didn’t after the loss to Hong Kong because everyone was sulking in their rooms,” said the 26-year-old, who played against Manchester United earlier this season.

The baby-faced striker said he spoke to the support staff and senior players about his goal drought and was told that he was trying too hard. “I had to calm down and that was another reason why there were no celebrations.”

About his second goal — an incredible flick into the far post — Chhetri said he had scored similarly for Delhi once in the Santosh Trophy.

“I really wouldn’t recommend it be emulated,” he said, laughing.“I believe things should be kept simple but I had overrun the pass (from Anthony Pereira) and that was the only way I could connect.”

Friday night’s hattrick, India’s first since August 2008, has already been noticed by Chhetri’s club Kansas City Wizards.

“Their assistant-coach called me and I was told it was mentioned in the club’s website.” Chhetri said he would return to the Major League Soccer club after a week with the family once India’s Asian Cup commitments end.

Chhetri said he is happy with preparations for next January’s Asian Cup, adding that it was just as well India were clubbed with Australia, South Korea and Bahrain in what is being referred the competition’s group of death.

“For me it’s not about our opponents but a chance to see where we stand. Qualifying for the Asian Cup has given us a chance to live our dream and we need to give it everything we have.”

After the tie against Yemen in Pune on Wednesday, the squad takes a two-week break before assembling for a preparatory camp in Dubai.