Baichung Bhutia: Sunil Chhetri's experience, fitness crucial for India's 2019 Asian Cup chances
Not one to mince his words, former India skipper Bhaichung Bhutia felt India will rely heavily on the experience of current captain Sunil Chhetri, the only member from the 2011 Asian Cup squad, for the 2019 edition
Former India football captain Bhaichung Bhutia at an event yesterday. Pic/Satej Shinde
Not one to mince his words, former India skipper Bhaichung Bhutia felt India will rely heavily on the experience of current captain Sunil Chhetri, the only member from the 2011 Asian Cup squad, for the 2019 edition. The Blue Tigers have been clubbed with hosts United Arab Emirates, Thailand and Bahrain in Group 'A' for the quadrennial event. It was Chhetri's hat-trick in 2008 against Tajikistan that helped India lift the AFC Challenge Cup and qualify for the 2011 edition after the 4-1 win.'
For the 2019 edition, India secured a direct qualification for the first time since 1984 after topping Group 'A' in the qualifiers, leaving behind Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar and Macau. "Sunil has got that experience of playing in the Asia Cup and that's what he will have to share with the players. I don't see anybody in the team who has got that experience. The players will see a lot of big stars from Asia and they will need to relax a bit.
"They will be sharing the same hotel with some of the big names of Asian football, so they will have to be confident and motivated. That's where Sunil will have to guide everybody," said Bhutia, who was part of the 2011 Asian Cup squad that lost all their three group games. He spoke on the sidelines of a FIFA World Cup event organised by Sony Pictures Networks yesterday.
Taking cue from his own experience where a recurring calf muscle injury denied him a chance to play in the 2011 opener against Australia (India lost 0-4), the ace striker-turned-politician, reckoned Chhetri, who has been in red-hot form of late, should be kept injury-free for the main event.
"Sunil will have to be a little careful. It's important to keep him fit. I've gone through that experience as well. Once you reach 30, a player tends to get injured and it's just not Sunil or Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi. When you play at that age, and with the intensity you bring in, injuries do come your way. We need to keep him at his best."
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