The awkwardness was palpable when Sunil Chhetri spoke, even when some 1500 miles away.
The nationwide team captain hadn’t even left the subject on Monday after scoring each targets in India’s win over Bangladesh earlier than the comparisons with Lionel Messi surfaced once more. This time, it got here from the official Twitter deal with of the FIFA World Cup.
“He’s now received greater than Messi!” the deal with exclaimed, referring to Chhetri surpassing the Argentine legend on the listing of lively footballers with the most worldwide targets. So, when India’s highest goal-scorer sat down with the media on Wednesday, the elephant in the room was addressed first up.
“You have an opinion, and also you have a platform (to specific it). But there isn’t a comparability by any means with Messi or any participant in that class,” Chhetri mentioned. “There are hundreds and hundreds of gamers higher than me. Individuals who understand football, they understand it.”
The lazy comparability, which ignores so many intangibles, additionally trivialises the worth of Chhetri’s 74 targets for the nationwide team. For a significant a part of the final decade, India has repeatedly turned to the 36-year-old ahead each time the team has been in bother. Chhetri, virtually unfailingly, has delivered. Be it when he scored his first objective in nationwide colors as a 20-year-old. Or now, when he’s scoring from assists by 20-year-olds like Suresh Wangjam.
🤩 He’s now received greater than Messi! Sunil Chhetri’s double earns the Blue Tigers a 2-0 win in #WCQ and strikes him on to 74 worldwide targets – above Lionel Messi and one off coming into world football’s all-time prime 10 🧗♂️@chetrisunil11 | @IndianFootball pic.twitter.com/sCCd6BgS9H
— FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) June 7, 2021
“I’ve misplaced rely the variety of occasions I’ve walked out of the tunnel… with an unreal sense of safety that he’ll ship when we want it the most,” goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu wrote on his social media deal with. “He simply retains turning up again and again.”
Simply as he did with the brace on Monday, scoring in the 79th and 92nd minutes in the 2-0 win over Bangladesh. True, it was Bangladesh, which at 184 is positioned 79 spots beneath India in FIFA rankings. And in the larger image, the twin strikes may not seem to be of big significance. But the present state through which the team finds itself, the significance of the targets doesn’t diminish.
They have introduced again on monitor India’s flagging qualifying marketing campaign, so far as the Asian Cup is worried, and snapped an 11-game winless run to hand a lifeline to the under-fire coach Igor Stimac.
A World Cup spot was by no means in India’s sight; a spot in the 2023 Asian Cup was a extra real looking goal for the world’s One hundred and fifth-ranked team. And on face worth, the team has proven marginal enchancment from the earlier World Cup and Asian Cup joint qualifying match. With one match left to play – in opposition to Afghanistan next Tuesday – India has 4 extra factors this time in contrast to the 2018 cycle.
READ | Chhetri overtakes Messi in listing of lively worldwide goalscorers
But it surely’s additionally a marketing campaign the place India have swung from one excessive – stealing some extent in an away match in opposition to Asian champions Qatar – to one other – dropping factors in opposition to Bangladesh at house. Chhetri accepted the team has “blown cold and hot,” and rued the undeniable fact that the team couldn’t seize the alternatives when offered, particularly in the opening match 2-1 loss to Oman.
Chhetri, nevertheless, isn’t taking a look at outcomes as the solely parameter to choose the nationwide team’s progress. Greater than successful or dropping, he’s eager to see how the team performs as soon as the gamers get some expertise below their belt. And he has recommendation for his teammates: “Be courageous with the ball.”
The matches in opposition to Oman and Qatar, in addition to the latest outcomes in opposition to the likes of China and Thailand, have proven that the team can defend. The health ranges, too, Chhetri added, have improved for the team to play the complete match with excessive depth. “We understand protection and weight-reduction plan,” he mentioned.
The next step for the nationwide team, he added, is to present braveness to preserve the ball.
“Not like Barcelona, not many groups can do this. But we have to be braver on the ball, sew collectively five-six passes and construct from that,” Chhetri added.
He mentioned this may change as soon as the gamers begin taking part in extra matches. Proper now, aside from him, solely Sandhu and defender Sandesh Jhingan have been assured starters for the nationwide team, with coach Stimac being accused of tinkering an excessive amount of with the squad.
Chhetri, although, defended the Croat.
“Now nobody can complain that the coach didn’t give them a good probability,” Chhetri mentioned. “Nevertheless, it’s not that the coach doesn’t desire a settled team. He’s been wanting to slim down to a bunch of 14 gamers that he’ll preserve religion in but the scenario has been powerful.”
Based mostly on the outcome in opposition to Afghanistan, India will know whether or not they are going to immediately qualify for the third spherical of the Asian Cup qualifiers or will be pressured to compete in a playoff match.
And whereas Chhetri is probably going to characteristic once more on the goal-scoring charts, main to comparisons with Messi once more, there’s one other inevitable query he’s routinely confronted with: Who after Chhetri?
“Many individuals ask me that,” he mentioned. “There’ll be higher gamers… that’s how evolution works. It takes time. My work is until the time I’m right here, I’ll give my finest.”