AFC Asian Cup: Down but not out, Chhetri wants boys to regroup for Uzbek challenge

The Socceroos, ranked 25th in the world, were made to wait by the Indian defence before forging a 2-0 win

Sandesh Jhingan (left) and Sunil Chhetri in action against Australia on Saturday (photo: AIFF)
Sandesh Jhingan (left) and Sunil Chhetri in action against Australia on Saturday (photo: AIFF)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

The 2-0 defeat against Australia, one of the top-notch Asian teams who made the second round in the Qatar World Cup just over a year back, did not quite come as a surprise for the Indian football fans. There were, on the contrary, enough takeaways to push for upset results in the remaining two group matches of the AFC Asian Cup against Uzbekistan (18 January) and Syria (23 January). 

While most fans lauded the Blue Tigers for the dogged defence they showed in keeping a team ranked 77 places higher at bay for 50 minutes, there were many who questioned the ‘progress’ of the game in the country — in light of the fact that India were humbled 4-0 by the same opposition the last time they met in the 2011 edition of the event in the same city.     

India skipper Sunil Chhetri, who was not allowed much empty space by the physically superior Socceroos, said: “There are pros and cons to this game. It’s not easy to play the best team in Asia. We are not used to playing sides like this as we don’t play against them very often, so you never know what to expect.’’ 

Speaking to AIFF media, the man with 93 international goals said: “It’s a mixed bag of feelings right now. Once we watch the videos, perhaps we will gain more confidence and work on the things that we could have done better,” he said. 

However, Chhetri felt they needed to regroup quickly ahead of their upcoming game against Uzbekistan, ranked 34 places ahead of India at 68. “Uzbekistan are not Australia but they’re a good side nonetheless. So it will be a big challenge in that game too,” he said. 

The sight of a strapping Sandesh Jhingan — conspicuous by his bandaged forehead owing to stitches above each eyebrow — was a remarkable one as he marshalled the heart of the defence to keep the wave of attacks at bay. The defeat, however, left him in no mood to reflect on a strong personal performance as the FC Goa central defender said: “I don’t care about my performance. If the team wins, it’s good for us. If the team loses, then we all lose.  

“This is not to put it in a bad way. We were playing one of the best teams in Asia, and you need to give them respect. I feel we gave a good account of ourselves, and we’ll take the lessons that we’ve had to learn in certain moments. 

“We were disappointed at the end but at the back of our minds, we could sense that they were having their nervy moments. But they had one chance and they took it, that’s football. This batch knows how to deal with this. We are not going to cry about it. We will stick to the targets we’ve kept for ourselves and continue to work hard.” 

For goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, it was a game of two halves — a good performance under the woodwork in the first, while it was a lapse in the second half which paved the way for the first goal. 

“The first half was something we should be proud of, but it’s a game of small margins and if you give an inch to such superior opponents, they will punish you,” the experienced shot stopper said. “I should have been better, but it’s a game that I can learn from. We now need to wrap it up and move on to the upcoming two matches.’’

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