"Need To Start Learning To Play Without" Sunil Chhetri: India Coach Igor Stimac After Star Striker's Brace In Asian Cup Qualifiers
At 37, Chhetri is at the fag end of his career, but India still needed him to score the two goals and start their Asian Cup Qualifiers campaign with a win over Cambodia in Kolkata on Wednesday
Indian football team head coach Igor Stimac wants his attacking players to start learning to play without talisman Sunil Chhetri, and score some goals too. At 37, Chhetri is at the fag end of his career, but India still needed him to score the two goals and start their Asian Cup Qualifiers campaign with a win over Cambodia in Kolkata on Wednesday. Stimac said it's high time that players such as Udanta Singh, Manvir Singh, Ashique Kuruniyan, Sahal Abdul Samad and Liston Colaco start scoring. "It's again Sunil. Others tried to get it but not finding a way. So I expect goals from Liston, Manvir, Udanta, Aashique, Sahal. They all need to start scoring. We need to start learning... The boys need to start learning to play without Sunil -- simple as that," Stimac said after the match.
The Croatian World Cup semifinalist said Udanta and Ashique are the team's two main weapons up front.
"I don't mind how bad they play in the club -- simple as that. I need them here to use the speed they have to hurt the opponents who are stronger because we don't have a big pool of players to choose from," he added.
Indian captain Chhetri said their attacking force could have done better in the win over lowly Cambodia.
On an evening of missed chances, Chhetri again rose to the occasion slamming home a brace to be the architect of their win, which put them ahead of Hong Kong, on goal difference, in group D.
"It feels good, I'm more happy as we ensured a clean sheet. There are a lot of things that we could have done better. I'm not trying to be harsh but there are a lot of things we could have done better," Chhetri told reporters at the mixed zone.
Chhetri drew the first blood by converting a penalty in the 14th minute after Colaco was tripped inside the box.
Thereafter, India struggled with finishing even though they dominated possession.
Chhetri himself missed a couple of headers before sealing it off a delightful cross from Brandon Fernandes.
"It wasn't easy. It was very humid but of course, it was the same for both teams. But the tempo of the game could not be maintained for a longer time. We need to work on that.
"But it's always a good start when you get three points from your first game.
"A lot of players got 90 minutes which was good. Playing three matches in seven days is not going to be easy," he said.
Chhetri also had a word of praise for the young brigade comprising Suresh Singh Wangjam, Roshan Singh Naorem, Akash Mishra and Anwar Ali.
"All these four guys were really good. But I'm really impressed with Akash in the last one and half months.
"For them to come and don the national jersey in front of these fans, I'm sure they were nervous. But they dealt with the pressure very well," he added.
Chhetri has 82 international goals now -- third in the list of highest scorers among active footballers. Asked about the feeling, he said: "I just feel old (smiles)." "You have seen me from the start. I generally don't count these things. Once I'm done, I'll have a big tummy, you and I will sit, probably with a drink and talk about it," he said.
India will take on Afghanistan on Saturday before concluding the league stage against Hong Kong on June 14.