India captain Sunil Chhetri insisted that his side’s heartbreaking defeat to Bahrain in the Asian Cup was down to their tactics and not fatigue.
The Blue Tigers were minutes away from sealing a historic round-of-16 berth in the tournament but Jamal Rashid’s penalty in the final minute sank Indian hearts. Despite playing crisp counter-attacking football against Thailand and UAE, India sat back and allowed Bahrain to launch a wave of attacks, a gameplan that cost them dearly.
Chhetri felt he could have warned his teammates during the game about inviting pressure. “Mentally, we killed it ourselves,” Chhetri was quoted as saying by Hindustan Times.
“Physically, we were not tired. Someone like Hali (Halicharan Narzary) could have run 180 minutes 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.”
At the end of the game, coach Stephen Constantine stepped down from his post in a teary-eyed press conference. Chhetri, who recently equalled former captain Bhaichung Bhutia’s national record of highest international caps, dismissed suggestions that he will follow suit.
“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. “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.
Looking back at India’s performances at the tournament, though, Chhetri sounded reasonably happy. He praised the Blue Tigers’ display during their memorable win against Thailand, and the manner in which they troubled hosts UAE.
“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.