The awkwardness was palpable when Sunil Chhetri spoke, even when some 1500 miles away.
The nationwide crew captain hadn’t even left the sector on Monday after scoring each objectives 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 acquired greater than Messi!” the deal with exclaimed, referring to Chhetri surpassing the Argentine legend on the checklist of lively footballers with probably the most worldwide objectives. So, when India’s highest goal-scorer sat down with the media on Wednesday, the elephant within the room was addressed first up.
“You’ve gotten an opinion, and you’ve got a platform (to precise it). However there isn’t a comparability in any respect with Messi or any participant in that class,” Chhetri mentioned. “There are 1000’s and 1000’s of gamers higher than me. Individuals who perceive soccer, they understand it.”
The lazy comparability, which ignores so many intangibles, additionally trivialises the worth of Chhetri’s 74 objectives for the nationwide crew. For a significant a part of the final decade, India has repeatedly turned to the 36-year-old ahead each time the crew has been in bother. Chhetri, nearly unfailingly, has delivered. Be it when he scored his first aim 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 acquired greater than Messi! Sunil Chhetri’s double earns the Blue Tigers a 2-0 win in #WCQ and strikes him on to 74 worldwide objectives – above Lionel Messi and one off coming into world soccer’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 once we want it probably the most,” goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu wrote on his social media deal with. “He simply retains turning up over and over.”
Simply as he did with the brace on Monday, scoring within the 79th and 92nd minutes within the 2-0 win over Bangladesh. True, it was Bangladesh, which at 184 is positioned 79 spots beneath India in FIFA rankings. And within the larger image, the dual strikes may not seem like of big significance. However the present state wherein the crew finds itself, the significance of the objectives doesn’t diminish.
They’ve introduced again on monitor India’s flagging qualifying marketing campaign, so far as the Asian Cup is anxious, and snapped an 11-game winless run at hand a lifeline to the under-fire coach Igor Stimac.
A World Cup spot was by no means in India’s sight; a spot within the 2023 Asian Cup was a extra practical goal for the world’s One hundred and fifth-ranked crew. And on face worth, the crew 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 subsequent Tuesday – India has 4 extra factors this time in comparison with the 2018 cycle.
READ | Chhetri overtakes Messi in checklist of lively worldwide goalscorers
However it’s additionally a marketing campaign the place India have swung from one excessive – stealing a degree in an away match in opposition to Asian champions Qatar – to a different – dropping factors in opposition to Bangladesh at dwelling. Chhetri accepted the crew has “blown cold and warm,” and rued the truth that the crew couldn’t seize the alternatives when introduced, particularly within the opening match 2-1 loss to Oman.
Chhetri, nevertheless, isn’t taking a look at outcomes as the one parameter to guage the nationwide crew’s progress. Greater than successful or dropping, he’s eager to see how the crew performs as soon as the gamers get some expertise beneath 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 current outcomes in opposition to the likes of China and Thailand, have proven that the crew can defend. The health ranges, too, Chhetri added, have improved for the crew to play your complete match with excessive depth. “We perceive protection and weight loss plan,” he mentioned.
The subsequent step for the nationwide crew, he added, is to point out braveness to maintain the ball.
“Not like Barcelona, not many groups can try this. However we have now to be braver on the ball, sew collectively five-six passes and construct from that,” Chhetri added.
He mentioned this can 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 crew, 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 likelihood,” Chhetri mentioned. “Nevertheless, it’s not that the coach doesn’t desire a settled crew. He’s been trying to slender all the way down to a gaggle of 14 gamers that he’ll maintain religion in however the state of affairs has been robust.”
Primarily based on the outcome in opposition to Afghanistan, India will know whether or not they are going to instantly qualify for the third spherical of the Asian Cup qualifiers or will probably be pressured to compete in a playoff match.
And whereas Chhetri is more likely to characteristic once more on the goal-scoring charts, resulting in 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 will probably 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 greatest.”