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Asian Games

Asian Games 2023: Staying together as a team is important, says Sunil Chhetri

Saudi Arabia, ranked 57 in the FIFA ranking, have always held the upper hand against India, ranked 102, having scored 18 goals in five encounters while India could manage only two. 

Asian Games 2023: Staying together as a team is important, says Sunil Chhetri
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By

The Bridge Desk

Published: 27 Sep 2023 3:12 PM GMT

Sunil Chhetri is aware of the problems the India Men’s team are facing during their current Asian Games campaign in Hangzhou. He is also conscious of India’s dismal track record against Saudi Arabia and the present strength of the West Asian side.

But it could hardly deter him from keeping his focus straight for the Round of 16 tie against Saudi Arabia in the Asian Games on Thursday, September 28, 2023, at the Huanglong Sports Centre Stadium, Hangzhou.

“We were shown a lot of clips from the Saudi games by our coach (Igor Stimac), not only the ones that they played here but also a few of their matches from the recent past. He spoke about different ways in which we go out and apply ourselves. On the face value, they are a very good side with a lot of good, decent players, who are good with the ball….a lot of quality in and around the whole team,” said the Indian captain.

Saudi Arabia, the fifth-largest country in Asia and ranked 57 in the FIFA ranking, have always held the upper hand against India, ranked 102, having scored 18 goals in five encounters while India could manage only two. The last meeting between the two teams in the Asian Games ended in a solitary goal victory for Saudi Arabia in 1982 quarter-finals in New Delhi.

“The emphasis from the coach is very simple: we go in as a unit and avoid situations where they get one versus one; that’s one of the major tactics,” Chhetri continued. “We saw a lot of clippings, a lot of formation, and different things that the coach wants to try. He also has one more day to see how the boys have recovered from three games in five days,” Chhetri added.

The squad features many young talents, and Chhetri expressed confidence in their potential, saying, “There are many youngsters in the squad who probably did not have the taste of this kind of tournament atmosphere. And to be fair, it's quite evident, but what is also good is that everyone has given their best till now.

“I think a lot of us, especially the youngsters lacking in experience, are matching with our enthusiasm and the zeal to do well for the nation. And it's not easy, especially when you are a youngster, but all of them are first improving every day and second, wanting to give everything they have got,” added Chhetri.

Coach Igor Stimac, however, stays undaunted by the challenge. “Yes, this is one of my biggest challenges as the India head coach so far. But I love challenges, I love to face them, I never shy away from them. It will be no different on Thursday.

“Few players are suffering from a cold and one from an upset stomach. There are no injuries for tomorrow.”

He also expressed confidence in the Blue Tigers’ ability to surprise Saudi Arabia. “Whatever our track record may be against Saudi Arabia, we are capable of springing surprises,” said the coach. “I had a meeting with the players and chalked out certain strategies for the Saudi Arabia match. Saudi are a brilliant side and are playing with lots of confidence. They have great individual skills with a lot of talent in them,” he added.

“Our main problem is the lack of possibilities in regards to our players' natural positions in the game. We are preparing to go out and fight against the rival camp. We are going to leave everything on the pitch. We are going to fight it hard,” asserted Coach Stimac.

The match, which kicks off at 5 pm IST, will be telecast live on Sony Sports Network and streamed live on SonyLiv.

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