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Saturday, Sep 21, 2019

Stephen Constantine: India have one foot in 2019 Asian Cup finals

Sunil Chhetri scored a magnificent goal as India defeated Kyrzgyz Republic 1-0 in the 2019 Asian Cup qualifier and coach Stephen Constantine has said the decision to rest him for the Nepal game proved to be correct.

football Updated: Jun 14, 2017 09:11 IST
Dhiman Sarkar
Dhiman Sarkar
Hindustan Times, Bangalore
Sunil Chhetri scored a magnificent goal to help India beat Kyrgyz Republic 1-0 in the 2019 Asian Cup qualifier match in Bangalore.
Sunil Chhetri scored a magnificent goal to help India beat Kyrgyz Republic 1-0 in the 2019 Asian Cup qualifier match in Bangalore.(AFP)

Sunil Chhetri has been India’s highest goalscorer for a while. Somewhere in the process, he also has taken over the mantle of being the team’s elder statesman in a manner that his predecessor Bhaichung Bhutia would be pleased.

More proof of that came on Tuesday night soon after a moment of brilliance from him had sealed the deal for India against Kyrzgyz Republic in this 2019 Asian Cup qualifier at the Kanteraava stadium. One that India coach Stephen Constantine said had got them one foot into the finals. “We will need another six points I think,” he said.

The claps were still ringing in their ears when Chettri took the podium with Constantine. Both got an ovation from the media before taking the interaction. And through it all, Chhetri spoke about what a stellar team effort this was.

Was fortunate: Chhetri

“I was just fortunate. If Jeje doesn’t pass, I don’t score; if Udanta didn’t pass I wouldn’t have scored (against Myanmar). My father had said ‘if you want to make money, become a striker’ but really this is a whole team effort and I include the guys who work tirelessly behind the scenes to make us look good on the pitch,” said Chhetri.

It was a thought he repeated through the interaction. “In 12 years that I am with the national team, this was one of the best performances. We were battered by the gaffer at half-time. This was our home game and he tore into us using language I can’t repeat here for giving them so much respect. But what I am particularly proud of is how the team showed character. From the goalkeeper to those in front. And what a performance it was, man!,” said Chhetri.

‘Don’t tumble’

The skipper said his only thoughts as he ran with the ball for that 69th minute goal was “don’t fall, don’t tumble… Then, when I passed to Jeje, I told myself keep running. After the goal, the first thing I did was look at the clock and told the team we have to score another and defend well.”

Chhetri, who turns 33 in August, said he is fortunate that he gets asked to rate his goals people think are memorable. “These three points are massive and that’s what sets this goal apart even though it was just one part of what we did.”

Constantine thanked the medical staff for getting Chettri ready to make that “unbelievable run, as he did against Myanmar. And I am glad I didn’t play him against Nepal because then he may not have made this run.”

“As he touched the ball, I understood what this means to football in India. For us to be six points, top of the table… Let’s not make mistake as we did against Guam (in the World Cup qualifier in 2015) but let’s also enjoy this moment.”

Asked if thought India could have won by more, Constantine said: “Let’s not get greedy.” But when it was pointed out that India have now won eight successive matches, he said: “Now, I want nine.”

First Published: Jun 14, 2017 09:06 IST