New Delhi, January 14: The emergence of young talent under coach Stephen Constantine's rotation policy and the Indian football team's consistency in recent times make skipper Sunil Chhetri hopeful of a smooth build-up to the 2019 AFC Asian Cup.
"We have been consistent and have a fairly impressive phase, but we need to keep challenging ourselves," Chhetri said during a chat. India qualified for the Asian Cup by beating Macau in the qualifiers last October. "A lot of youngsters have got their chances and it's nice to see so many of them wanting to make the most of it. It isn't my place to pick individuals out. We've all got to keep our heads down and work hard," the country's all-time highest scorer said.
The last time India played in the continental tournament was in 2011, when they were knocked out in the first round after being thrashed by much-superior South Korea, Australia and Bahrain. Chhetri, though, managed to score a couple of goals in India's disastrous showing.
The 33-year-old striker feels playing a lot of matches would be an ideal build-up for the tournament taking place in the UAE. "We need to get in as many games as possible as a unit in the build-up to the tournament. I am certain the coach and the federation have plans chalked out for how they want us to approach the Asian Cup.”
Chhetri is particularly keen on playing more away games, to ensure that the 2011 disaster is not repeated. He is currently playing for Bengaluru FC in the Indian Super League (ISL) and asked about the team's impressive run in its debut season, a modest Chhetri simply attributed it to hard work. "We work hard to be consistent, there's no real secret to reason of our success. That said, we've only reached the half-way mark in the ISL and we will soon be beginning our AFC Cup campaign.
"There's a lot of football left to play for and lot to achieve. But like I said, we're a team that works hard and rallies around each other on and off the pitch." Since its formation, Bengaluru FC's rise has been meteoric, and Chhetri has been an integral part of the club's two I-League triumphs as well as its historic march to the AFC Cup final.
A lot has been said about the club's exemplary professionalism and asked about it, Chhetri said, "A lot has been said about the professionalism at Bengaluru FC but the key aspect for me is that the club is keen on improving with every passing day. Everyone at the club is making an effort to get better and that, for me, is a vital reason for our success. No one gets comfortable. I know for a fact that the day the season ends, the staff and management is in the next day to chalk out plans for the next season.”
Life has been good post marriage to his long-time girlfriend Sonam. "Life has been good, to be honest. My wife is on top of her game with making sure everything is in order for me. The pressure is squarely on me."