Kolkata:Their tails up after two successive wins in front of a strong home crowd, India captain Sunil Chhetri has backed his team to beat Honk Kong in the last qualifying game and secure a berth in next year’s AFC Asian Cup.
India prevailed over Afghanistan 2-1 in a thrilling match that saw three quick goals being scored at the fag end of the game after both teams denied each other for 86 minutes at the Salt Lake Stadium that had 40000 spectators in the stands on Saturday evening.
The day coincided with talismanic skipper Chhetri completing 17 years in international football.
“It feels great to celebrate my 17th year in international football in this fashion. I felt that maybe we will be splitting the points after Afghanistan equalised. But the boys did what they did.
“But at the same time, such milestones don’t mean much to me. I am honoured and privileged to wear the national team jersey for so long,” Chhetri said.
Chhetri laughed when reminded about him sprinting like Usain Bolt to celebrate Abdul Sahal Samad’s decisive strike in the injury time.
“The GPS will say that that was my fastest sprint of the night. We will rest, recover, and have a look at the videos. Hong Kong are a good side, but we are at home, and will be backing ourselves. All of the fans will be there too.”
The win helped India consolidate their position in the group as they seek to make a second straight appearance in the Asian Cup and fifth overall, having been knocked out in the group stage in the last edition in 2019.
Head Coach Igor Stimac stated, “We were Blue Tigers in the match against Afghanistan, and that’s what they need to be on the pitch. That’s our intent, keeping the pride intact.” Abdul Sahal, who scored the winner late in the second-half, sounded ecstatic.
“The victory was earned in front of the fans, and hence, it tastes sweeter. I had to back myself, and placed it beyond the goalkeeper. And even before I could realise, the entire team was there to celebrate,” he said.
Central defender Sandesh Jhingan also highlighted the character in the squad.
“We played some great football. The character of the team was there for all to see after we conceded. The biggest strength is the talent available in the team. But the attitude, mentality and the desire to get going describes this lot,” he uttered.
Stimac added, “We showed character, resilience, willingness and a good spirit on the pitch. Everyone was wonderful – Roshan, Akash, Suresh, Jeakson, and all. I felt Jeakson (Singh) was having fun playing football. They have now enough experience of winning games, and that’s our treasure.”
Chhetri put India ahead with a brilliant free-kick from just over 20 yards, taking only a couple of steps before unleashing his shot straight into the right corner of the net beating Afghanistan’s goalkeeper.
It was the Indian superstar’s 83rd goal in international football as he closed in on second-placed Argentine genius Lionel Messi among active players.