The Indian football team's 1-2 loss to tiny Guam, 33 places below them in the FIFA rankings, in their World Cup qualifier recently was enough to set the alarm bells ringing.
Sunil Chhetri at a city event yesterday. Pic/Shadab Khan
While the defeat was blamed on a host of reasons from the travel time taken to get to the country (16 hours), to the artificial pitch, to the number of inexperienced players being picked in the side (13 debutants across four matches). However, the loss can primarily be attributed to a lack of friendlies, according to India captain Sunil Chhetri.
With an eye on their upcoming qualifier against World No 41 Iran on September 8, Chhetri has urged the All India Football Federation's (AIFF) think-tank to set up more friendly clashes and national camps.
"It can't get better than that (Iran) in Asia. We definitely need more days at a national camp and more friendly matches. I just hope that they (AIFF) understands this. It's a bit difficult as the Indian Super League (ISL) is there now.
I don't know how they will pull it off, but I hope we get as much time to train together as possible and as many friendlies as we can," said Chhetri, who was in the city yesterday to participate in the #RiseWithTwitter event, where he was part of a panel discussion on 'The Mobile Microphone'.
Not good enough
The striker, who captains I-League side Bengaluru FC, said the Indian team's deficiencies were to blame for the Guam loss. "It was our mistake only. People have said that Guam was far, there was an artificial pitch etc, but the primary reason we lost was because we weren't good. We didn't do our best," he told mid-day.
India coach Stephen Constantine's policy of rotating his captains — India have had three captains in their last three matches, Subrata Paul (against Nepal), Arnab Mondal (against Oman) and Chhetri (against Guam) — has also come under scrutiny after the Guam defeat.
But Chhetri said the captaincy issue does not play on his mind at all. "My job stays the same irrespective of whether I am wearing the captain's armband or not. Whenever I'm needed, I'm always there for the young players to try and motivate them. As soon as the national anthem goes, the feeling of being on the pitch is the same.
"There are a lot of youngsters in the national side right now. They were all devastated and saddened after the Guam match. I told them that it's over. The next game we play, no one is going to come and play for us. We have to improve ourselves, so 'enjoy your break and then start training and come back stronger'," Chhetri said.