Indian football team captain Sunil Chhetri on Tuesday asked his team-mates to pull up their socks and produce an improved performance in the team’s crunch World Cup qualifying round match against Afghanistan on Thursday.
After inspiring performance against Asian champions Qatar where they registered a goalless draw, India played out a 1-1 draw against lower-ranked Bangladesh, who were on the verge of running away with the match before the home side’s late equaliser in Kolkata on October 15.
Igor Stimac’s side are now at the fourth spot in the Group E table with two points and the Thursday’s match at Tajikistan capital of Dushanbe will be a crunch game for India to remain in the hunt in the qualifying round.
The war-ravaged Afghanistan chose Dushanbe as their home venue for the second round qualifiers of the World Cup.
Chhetri said “converting chances” was an area where the team needs to work more. India had a slew of chances against Bangladesh and all of them they wasted except for the 88th minute header from Adil Khan.
“We are creating chances. But that is not enough. We have to try our best to convert them and try to be a tougher unit while defending. We have missed against Bangladesh and we need to pull up our socks against Afghanistan,” Chhetri said after a short training stint at the Dubai Sports City.
“At the end of the day, if we can do better on the pitch, we’ll be happier,” he added.
The team is on transit in Dubai on way to Dushanbe. The players reached UAE on Monday and will leave for the Tajikistan later in the day. They will reach Dushanbe – which has no direct flight from any Indian city – on Wednesday, just a day before the match.
Stimac, on his part, said his team will go for a win and it cannot afford to slip at any cost.
“We have a steep task in Dushanbe and we have to overcome that. Winning against Afghanistan is the only thing that is going on in our mind now. It will not come to us, rather we need to go and snatch it. It’s always about us and our performance to achieve something,” the Croatian said.
Full-back Subhasish Bose said, “Maintaining clean sheets will be of paramount importance in order to stay alive in the race of the World Cup Qualifiers. We will need to be sharper in the absence of Sandesh (Jhingan) bhai.
“The team is upbeat. We will leave no stone unturned to make the most out of the remaining games. We were able to do the same against Qatar. If we play to our true potential, there’s no reason not to repeat it against Afghanistan and Oman again,” he added.
Seasoned defender Anas Edathodika, who paired with Adil Khan at the heart of the defence against Bangladesh, sounded optimistic about the “defensive solidarity” that the Blue Tigers have shown so far.
“There are no easy games at the International level but we have shown defensive solidarity so far. We have to continue to believe in ourselves. We really need to get some good results in the next two games and all that starts with our performance at the back,” he said.
“In Asian Cup qualifiers last time, we had three consecutive clean sheets. It always makes your job easier to win a match if you can come out with a clean sheet. If we can maintain our shape and hold the defensive line as per our plans, we can pull it off against them,” he explained.
Centre-back Adil Khan mentioned: “We will miss Sandesh Jhingan (injured), but the others need to step up and shoulder the responsibility now. All players are currently playing in the Indian Super League and so it should not be the same problem.”