Kolkata† Indian football team captain Sunil Chhetri says the squad would like to play the AFC Asian Cup on home soil, with the forward confessing that he has “reached my peak” at the age of 37.
A nearly packed crowd at the iconic Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata watched the Indian national football team qualify for the AFC Asia Cup 2023 final in style and won 4-0 against Hong Kong on Tuesday-evening.
Impressed by the huge turnout for their final qualifier, despite heavy rain, Chhetri expressed his desire to play the final in India.
“In the form we are in, we would have loved to play at home. The way the fans are coming to us and supporting us in large numbers, it would be great to play here,” Chhetri said after India first settled in history for the second time in a row for the Asian Cup.
China, which was scheduled to host the Asian Cup final next year, had withdrawn as hosts and maintained the country’s fluid COVID-19 situation.
India defeated Cambodia and Afghanistan before taking a convincing win over Hong Kong in Group D of the third round of Asian Cup qualifiers.
All matches were played at the Salt Lake Stadium, where India played for the first time in more than two years.
Chhetri praised the emergence of youth in the national team over the course of the three-match campaign.
“The kids are just wonderful. They will probably kill me for mentioning children; the guys are fantastic. We have the right mix of seniors and juniors in the locker room.”
“You also have Liston (Colaco) and Suresh (Wangjam) along with Akash (Mishra) and Roshan (Singh) who have been brilliant.”
“So yes, there are a lot of youngsters coming, and Ishan (Pandita) also did very well in training, and look what he did today. Ishan and Sahal (Abdul Samad) are two players who deserve these kind of nights,” said Chhetri, who scored the second goal of the evening as Anwar Ali, Manvir Singh and Ishan Pandita got their names on the scoresheet.
Chhetri will play his third final of the Asian Cup tournament after previous appearances in 2011 and 2019.
Despite being 37 years old, the striker feels like he’s at his peak right now.
“Now I’m at my peak. The last Asian Cup is already over. We really want to work hard. It doesn’t matter in the next big tournaments if I’m there or someone else gets the wink, India should be there at the Asian Cup, I’ve already said this. †
“It is of utmost importance for us as a nation to stay in the Asian Cup so that we can put our shoulders to the wheel of the best in India, which doesn’t happen often. This gives us the chance to play friendly matches with better-ranked opponents in the run-up to the tournament,” said the talisman striker.
After scoring his 84th goal in national colors against Hong Kong, Chhetri tied the score with Hungarian legend Ferenc Puskas in the all-time international goalscorers list, where he is currently tied for fifth.
however, the Bengaluru FC man reiterated that he doesn’t pay too much attention to records.
“Feels good, but you have to keep going. I really don’t think too much about the records. I know that given the number of matches I’ve played for the country, I don’t have that many left. I want to go out and enjoy every game.”
“I want to slide, I want to run and I want to do everything I can because I know it won’t be long. It is absolutely the best thing that can happen in my life to play for my country. It is an absolute honour, in every detail,” concluded Chhetri.
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