Sunil Chhetri says he doesn’t take FIFA rankings too seriously
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Sunil Chhetri says he doesn’t take FIFA rankings too seriously

Getting to 96 in the current FIFA rankings hasn’t been easy for India, but skipper Sunil Chettri said the challenge now will be to stay there

football Updated: Jul 15, 2017 19:37 IST
Indian football,Sunil Chhetri,Indian national football team
Sunil Chhetri (C) says it will be a big achievement for India if they maintain the top-100 ranking after three years.(AP)

There is usually a positive correlation between a surge in FIFA rankings and winning games, but for India skipper Sunil Chhetri, the focus is always on the latter. “I don’t take rankings too seriously,” he said here on Saturday.

Getting to 96 in the current FIFA rankings hasn’t been easy, but Chettri said the challenge will now be to stay there. “That will be very tough. If after three years we are still in the top 100, I think that will be a massive achievement,” said Chhetri, speaking after attending an investiture programme at a school here.

From a high of 45 in 1998, Thailand slumped to 60 in 2001 and to 137 in 2006. Lithuania were 55 in 2010 and 116 in 2012. Having used an algorithm of playing some away games against teams ranked slightly below it and beating a higher-ranked Puerto Rico at home, India moved north in the rankings. But no formula would have worked had they not won matches, so that explains why Chhetri, 33, wants to focus on victories.

READ | FIFA ranking: Indian football team up to 96, achieve best position in 21 years

“We have won 13 out of our last 15 games and we are not going to get complacent. Trust me; it is not going to be easy against Macau (in the Asian Cup qualifiers, away on September 5 and at home on October 10). I don’t know much about the timing of the Champions Cup (a planned international tournament to be hosted in India) and how many players would be available but we will try to win games, that is the most important thing,” said Chhetri.

Speaking about India’s surge in the rankings, Chhetri said the team is now more in sync with what the coach (Stephen Constantine) wants. “He too knows the players better now. When he took over (in March 2015), a lot of senior players were moving out and so he drafted in a number of juniors…But we have a long way to go.”

Missing Bagan rivalry

For the first time since he turned professional, Chhetri, who is India’s highest goalscorer with 54 strikes in 94 games, will not be playing in the league that has Mohun Bagan and East Bengal.

READ | Wish ISL showed flexibility to take Mohun Bagan, East Bengal: AIFF

“Will miss not scoring against them,” he said. “Am not trying to hint at anything and no disrespect to East Bengal, but Bengaluru FC’s rivalry against Mohun Bagan was something. I just hope we meet again soon.”

4 imports ideal

Chhetri said he didn’t like the idea of more than four foreigners in either the I-League or ISL, but ‘said there is a way to get there’. “Next year, we have been promised that there would be four imports allowed in keeping with AFC (Asian Football Confederation) rules,” he said.

The AFC Cup is a big deal for Chhetri and his team. “We would have liked to have more time to prepare, but we might have to wait for the draft (likely on July 23) before pre-seasons. Am not thinking too much about the ISL now. The focus is on AFC Cup,” he said.

Bengaluru FC finished runners-up in 2016, the first Indian team to get that far, and will play the zonal semi-finals against North Korea’s 4.25SC (April 25 Sports Club) at home on August 23 and away on September 13.

First Published: Jul 15, 2017 19:32 IST