New Delhi : Indian football captain Sunil Chhetri is probably the most talked about sportsperson in the country at the moment. While his passionate plea to his countrymen to watch and support the Indian football team struck a chord with many football fans, his feat of equalling Lionel Messi’s international goals has raised his stature further. A day after leading India to a title triumph in the Intercontinental Cup, the skipper seemed delighted with how things have panned out for him and the team in the last couple of days. Yet, the bigger picture wasn’t lost on him — he knew exactly where they stood at the world level, and said it was important to become a top-10 team in Asia before dreaming about the World Cup.
Excerpts from an interaction:
Is India’s World Cup dream too far-fetched?
We are not even in the top-10 in Asia. Japan, Saudi Arabia, Australia, South Korea, Iran, Uzbekistan are all better than us. I want to be in the top-10 in Asia. It is going to be very difficult but that’s my target. So before thinking about the World Cup, we need to get among Asia’s top-10, and stay there. Only then we will find out how good the likes of Japan and South Korea are. Once we play them regularly, we will know exactly where we stand.
Which team are you going to support at the World Cup?
I will support all the teams. World Cup comes once every four years, so I am excited to watch all the teams and all top players. But if I’ve to name one player I really want to watch, it has to be Messi.
You have scored as many international goals as Messi…
I don’t take the comparison seriously. Messi is at a different level. I’m just happy that I have scored 64 goals for my country. I just see and look at it for five seconds and forget about it.
You must be happy with the response to your plea to the football fans. What made you do it?
Happy for everyone who was on and off the pitch. If we get the kind of support we got in Mumbai, we’ll give everything for the country. It is really motivating when the stadium is jam-packed. I wasn’t thinking anything when I made that appeal, it was something that just came to my mind. I am happy people understood it and showed up in good numbers.
India are scheduled to take part in the Asia Cup. What sort of preparations the team needs to do well?
It will be best answered by AIFF. As a captain I want more away matches. We’ve a decent record at home, but away, I would say, is poor. So if we get to play more away games, against tougher opponents, that would be the right kind of preparation.
What’s the way forward to perform better at world stage?
Identify kids good at sport at young age and give them right coaching and good infrastructure. And then whatever we achieve, take it with both hands. Right now all we do after every Olympics is complain and grumble that ‘we are 1.3 billion people, yet we don’t win many medals at the Olympics’. But do we ever ask ourselves how much chance we give our sportspersons to shine at the highest level? The day we give opportunity to every kid to nurture his/her talent and dream, we will start making progress.