Kolkata (West Bengal) [India], March 15 (ANI): Indian football team head coach Igor Stimac feels that Sunil Chhetri, a legendary striker, “may be playing the final season” of his brilliant career. The Indian senior men’s team will be back in action on home soil after nine months, in the Tri-Nation Football Tournament from March 22. Imphal will welcome the Blue Tigers (106 in FIFA Rankings) for the first time, and the tournament will also feature Myanmar (159 in FIFA Rankings) and the Kyrgyz Republic (94 in FIFA Rankings). A week before the first game, the-aiff.com caught up with Stimac in the National camp in Kolkata.
“Sunil Chhetri was nowhere to be seen this season. He was on the bench, waiting, preparing himself, working to take his weight down a few kilos, which is very difficult to handle at this age. But when it was most needed, he was there for his club, helping them, and taking them to the finals. He scored the most decisive goals. At his age, this will probably be his farewell from football. I’m quite sure that the upcoming months will be the best for Sunil Chhetri,” AIFF quoted Stimac as saying.
Along with Chhetri, the Indian team has two other veteran stars central defender Sandesh Jhingan and goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, and Stimac understands that the core group of players will likely change in the near future.
“Along with him, Sandesh (Jhingan) and Gurpreet (Singh Sandhu) are the core strength of our team. I’ve never hidden that. I was never running away from the truth. They are free guys, with great characters, strong mindsets and a good mentality, which is a basic platform for us to build the team around. But of course, we need to keep their age in mind. Obviously, Sunil may be playing his last season, and definitely his last Asian Cup. Gurpreet and Sandesh may be there for four, or five years,” he added.
Team India will train in Kolkata in a five-day camp, before travelling to Imphal, where they will play the Tri-Nation International Football Tournament, at the Khuman Lampak Stadium from March 22 to 28, with Myanmar and Krygyz Republic being the two opponents. “But the rest of the team is just comprised of youngsters. They are our future, which is amazing because that’s something which we can build on. We need to be patient with them. And I’m quite sure that the experience our young players have got in the last four years will serve them well at the Asian Cup,” said the Indian head coach.
“In my first two years, we gave the chance to many players. It seemed to many people and followers of football in India that we were somehow experimenting. No, we were looking for those players who can handle the pressure of international football. We were giving chances to everyone who was doing well domestically. As simple as that. The door of the national team was wide open. We were looking for players with more technical ability, more strength, with a good mindset, with a positive attitude, good behaviour and a strong character. And to check that, you need to give everyone a chance,” he added.