Exclusive: As a senior player I should have done something - Sunil Chhetri
Sunil Chhetri is not retiring his India shirt yet. “No reason to (retire). One day there will be a No. 10 who will be better than me. Till then, I think I can contribute,” he said, over the phone from the UAE on Tuesday evening.
Still processing Monday night’s 0-1 loss to Bahrain that eliminated India from the Asian Cup, Chhetri, 35 this August, said he hadn’t slept after the game. “And I usually sleep a lot. After the win against Thailand, I was fairly confident we would qualify, so to absorb this is particularly difficult. Gutted,” he said.
Chhetri said the players were to blame for the way India lost in Sharjah on Monday. “Mentally, we killed it ourselves. Physically, we were not tired. Someone like Hali (Halicharan Narzary) could have run 180 minute more. We just didn’t perform. As a senior player, I should have done something, maybe yelled at the boys to not just lump the ball because at this level you simply can’t do that.”
So why didn’t the approach change in the second half? “In such situations, a kind of mentality sets in, one that is difficult to rid yourself of on the pitch. No one told us to play defensively. We should have kept the ball, not just pumped it ahead without direction. Because even though we defended really well, at this level you will be punished for doing that. We just kept telling ourselves ‘let’s hold on for some more time,’” he said.
What also didn’t help were the permutations and combinations that kicked in because this was part of the last set of games in the group. “Against Thailand and the UAE, we kept the ball, attacked more. We played without thinking about these things. But against Bahrain, it played on our minds that a draw would be enough. Had this not been our last game, we would done better,” said Chhetri, who scored two goals against Thailand and led against the UAE.
But if there is a positive from this Asian Cup, Chhetri’s second, it is this: “UAE, Thailand, Bahrain are not small teams. We caused UAE more grief than they us. We showed UAE and Thailand what we are capable of. To me, that means improvement. To me, it means we need to step up one more level and it is possible to do that. These 23 players have shown that they can keep the ball, attack and even score at this level,” he said.
Chhetri said India coach Stephen Constantine had got emotional when telling the players that he wouldn’t stay. “We didn’t speak much about the game.”
So what now? Chhetri said he would spend a few days in the UAE with family and rejoin Bengaluru FC. How difficult would it be to refocus on the Indian Super League (ISL)? “I know I don’t have a lot of years in the game. So every game I play, I really want to give it everything,” he said.