“The difference between India and Bangladesh on the football pitch? Of course Sunil Chhetri,” Bangladesh’ veteran midfielder Mamunul Islam had told the indianexpress.com in a candid conversation on Saturday. Since arriving in the city, the Bengal Tigers and their coaching staff have all stressed on one factor – Chhetri being their primary concern.
While the 35-year-old forward had to sit out of India’s previous match against Asian champions Qatar in Doha after falling ill, he is now fit and raring to go in the Group E match against Bangladesh at the Yuba Bharati Krirangan in Kolkata on Tuesday.
In the training sessions over the past couple of days, a lot of Bangladesh’s tactics involved close marking inside the box. Was that strategy being developed to stop the Indian talisman from doing damage? Bangladesh assistant coach Stuart Watkiss wasn’t in the mood to give out any details but once again earmarked Chhetri as the main threat.
“Obviously, Sunil is the most dangerous player because of the number of goals he has scored,” the 53-year-old had said, before adding, “He’s a super player, super player with a super goal-scoring record.”
Echoing his views, Bangladesh’s head coach Jamie Day, at the pre-match media interaction, said, “Chhetri is a big name in Asia. We have to mark him tightly. If we give space to big players they will punish you. But India have other good players who can win them matches but yes, we must make sure Chhetri doesn’t get the ball.”
The Indian captain was unwilling to get drawn into the hype and instead chose to play down his presence in the team.
“It was never about me, it will never be about me. It’s always about India versus Bangladesh and I’m just one of the 23 players. I have been lucky to have a little bit more experience and that’s about it. There’s no dependency on me from my teammates,” Chhetri said on the eve of India’s Group E fixture.
“I will be happy if they mark me. 1, 2, 3 or I hope 4 of them will mark me. Then it’ll be 10 vs 6 on the pitch and people will see more of Udanta, Ashique, Sahal, Manvir Singh, Balwant. You’ll see it tomorrow.”
“If indeed 4 people are marking me then four of us will have tea,” he said.
“I generally don’t try hard to score as it comes naturally. I really don’t mind who scores because all we need is the three points,” he further added.
Adding to it, Indian football team head Coach Igor Stimac said, “Being favourites doesn’t matter. We need to step up and perform because it’s 11 vs 11 on the pitch. Working together as a team will be crucial. We all need to respect each other, and make sacrifices for the team.”
India face Bangladesh at the Salt Lake Stadium in the hope of getting their first three points.
Bangladesh lost to Afghanistan and Qatar and are at the bottom of the group after two games.