Chhetri focuses on unity and strategies ahead of Asian Games clash with Saudi Arabia
Sunil Chhetri, captain of the Indian national football team, acknowledges the challenges India faces in the Asian Games Round of 16 against Saudi Arabia.
As India prepares to face Saudi Arabia in the Round of 16 at the Asian Games, Sunil Chhetri, the captain of the Indian national football team, recognizes the challenges his team encounters during their campaign in Hangzhou, China.
Chhetri is well aware of India’s historically unfavorable record against Saudi Arabia and acknowledges the strength of the West Asian side. However, this doesn’t deter him from maintaining his focus on the upcoming Round of 16 clash, set to be held at the Huanglong Sports Centre Stadium on Thursday.
The captain believes that by adhering to the right strategies and maintaining the team’s cohesion, as witnessed in their previous three matches, India can make the pre-quarterfinal encounter a thrilling one.
“We’ve extensively reviewed footage of Saudi Arabia’s matches, not only their recent ones but also from the past. Our coach, Igor Stimac, has discussed various approaches for us to adopt. On the surface, they are a formidable team with several talented players,” Chhetri commented.
Saudi Arabia, ranked 57th in FIFA rankings and the fifth-largest Asian country, has consistently held an advantage over India, ranked 102, with a remarkable 18 goals in their favor across five encounters, while India has managed only two goals. The last meeting between the two teams in the Asian Games concluded with a narrow 1-0 victory for Saudi Arabia during the 1982 Asiad quarterfinals in Delhi.
Chhetri underscores the importance of playing as a united team, emphasizing the value of unity and solidarity within the squad. “Hence, the coach’s primary message is clear: We enter the match as a collective force, minimizing one-on-one situations, a key tactical aspect. We’ve studied numerous video clips, formations, and various strategies the coach wishes to implement. He also has an extra day to assess the players’ recovery after competing in three matches within five days,” Chhetri explained.
Reflecting on the tournament’s journey so far, Chhetri admitted it had been challenging. However, he also emphasized that the qualification for the Round of 16 was a significant achievement. “It hasn’t been easy, to be honest, but it’s a rewarding experience. We cannot change the past, and now our complete focus and concentration are on the Saudi Arabia match,” he remarked.
The Indian squad boasts several young talents, and Chhetri expressed confidence in their potential. “Many young players in the squad might not have experienced such a tournament atmosphere before. Nevertheless, what’s noteworthy is that everyone has displayed their utmost commitment thus far. I believe the enthusiasm and determination of our young players are matching their relative lack of experience. It’s no small feat, particularly for youngsters, but they are making progress and are eager to give their all for the nation,” Chhetri added.
Coach Igor Stimac, despite acknowledging the challenge ahead, remains undaunted. “Yes, this is one of the most significant challenges I’ve faced as the head coach of India. However, I relish challenges; I confront them head-on and never shy away. Thursday will be no different. While a few players are battling colds, and one has an upset stomach, there are no injuries for tomorrow,” Stimac asserted.
He also expressed confidence in the Indian team’s ability to surprise Saudi Arabia. “Regardless of our track record against Saudi Arabia, we possess the capacity to spring surprises,” the coach stated.
“I held a meeting with the players and devised specific strategies for the Saudi Arabia match. Saudi Arabia is an exceptional side, playing with great confidence. They possess remarkable individual skills and abundant talent. Our main challenge is the limited flexibility concerning our players’ natural positions. Nevertheless, we are gearing up to compete,” Stimac concluded.