India captain Sunil Chhetri said that his side is still far from implementing new coach Igor Stimac’s vision. Fitness has been a top priority under the Croatian World Cup semi-finalist Stimac, who was appointed as the Blue Tigers’ head coach in May.
“We are still far from being in sync with what he wants us to do but we keep trying,” Chhetri said. “The best thing about Stimac, apart from his technical knowledge, is that he gives everyone a chance who does well in training. He simply comes to training and sees who does well, and in which position, and will give him the chance.”
At a time when the capital is grappling poor air quality, Chhetri, who grew up in Delhi, called it an “alarming” situation.
“We feel irritation in our eyes. I hope it is rectified as soon as possible. I am from Delhi but I rarely come here. I know some of the foreign players do wear masks.
“It is difficult to keep oneself fit in Delhi because the pollution is more here than in other states. It is not nice. The capital is the hub.”
He had a word of advice for those staying in the city. “Start climbing stairs, do exercise, don’t over-eat, let’s not blame the environment. Our problem is that we are not sincere enough” Chhetri said.
The Asian Football Federation has recently recognised the Indian Super League as India’s top league. Chhetri weighed in: “I think they have discussed with the AFC and I hope every stakeholder will come together. For me more teams the better, as soon as possible.
“The bigger it is, the better it is. That will increase the number of competitive matches and it is better for the players. I hope all the stakeholders come together and take the best step forward for Indian football.”
Chhetri said they will put their best foot forward against Oman and Afghanistan days after his defenceless team left its scoring boots at home in a 1-1 stalemate with Bangladesh in the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers. “We will put our best foot forward against Oman and Afghanistan,” promised Chhetri.
On a high after holding Asian champions and 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar to a goalless draw, a struggling India escaped with a 1-1 draw against lower-ranked Bangladesh in their previous second-round qualifying match in Kolkata.
“I think one of them is going to be in Dushanbe [Tajikistan] because they [Afghanistan] play their home games over there and then against Oman (in Muscat). Both are very difficult and important games, but we back ourselves. If we play the way we played against Qatar, we can do it. We are not scared,” Chhetri said.
Yet to taste a win, India are scheduled to play Afghanistan on November 15 and Oman on November 20. Having squandered a one-goal advantage to lose 1-2 to Oman in their opener at home, India held fancied Qatar in Doha before the underwhelming result against Bangladesh in Kolkata.
“We felt bad after the game because we felt we could have done a lot better than what we did. We are over it. We will put our best foot forward against Afghanistan and Oman, two away games, which are very important and difficult ones also.
“We do not want to wash away the good things we have done against Oman, Qatar and Bangladesh, we are definitely on a high. We are learning a lot, just hope we continue that,” said one of international football’s leading scorers.
“We are not happy with our performance against Bangladesh. The team played well but our strikers missed a lot of chances, and that’s why we lost two points which we should not have, and that really bothers us.”