Sunil Chhetri’s Dreams of India’s FIFA World Cup Qualification Ignite Hope
India’s football legend, Sunil Chhetri, shares his hopes and dreams for India’s historic qualification to the FIFA World Cup, bringing enthusiasm to the nation.
Sunil Chhetri’s enthusiasm is palpable as he envisions India’s historic journey to qualify for the FIFA World Cup in 2026. This remarkable opportunity awaits India as they embark on the path to the FIFA World Cup in Canada, Mexico, and the USA, starting in November 2023. The expanded 48-team tournament offers increased prospects for teams across all confederations, including eight direct slots for AFC nations and an additional place through the FIFA Play-Off Tournament.
Chhetri, who holds the all-time records for both goals scored and caps earned for India, will play a pivotal role in their latest endeavor to secure a spot in the global football extravaganza, a milestone India has yet to reach.
The initial step on this journey unfolds in round two of AFC qualifying, where India finds itself in Group A, facing formidable opponents such as 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar, Kuwait, and Afghanistan, who successfully navigated past Mongolia in round one. To advance to the third round, which will decide six of the AFC’s eight direct qualification slots, the Blue Tigers must secure a top-two finish in their four-team group, commencing with an away match against Kuwait on November 16.
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Chhetri expressed his heartfelt anticipation of India’s potential World Cup qualification, saying, “When that happens, the country will go mad. As an Indian, it’s going to be one of the best days of my life. I have so many dreams about that day. It is going to be humongous. The anticipation and hope it will bring to the entire nation is something I will never forget in my life. There are many people like me who can’t wait to see that day, and I hope it comes soon for us.”
He emphasized his role as a passionate fan and an ardent supporter of the Indian team, and while he recognizes that he is 39 years old, he takes it one step at a time, focusing on the next few months and his continued enjoyment of the game. Chhetri acknowledged that the day he stops deriving enjoyment from the sport and can no longer contribute effectively will be the day he retires.
India, currently ranked 102nd on the FIFA/Coca-Cola Men’s World Ranking, is under the guidance of coach Igor Stimac. The former Croatian defender played a significant role in Croatia’s remarkable journey to the semi-finals of the 1998 World Cup, eventually securing third place. Chhetri believes that Stimac’s World Cup experience benefits India and appreciates the coach’s support and foundation for the team’s development.
Chhetri explained, “Apart from his technical and tactical knowledge, him being in a similar situation with the Croatia team, and doing something extraordinary and amazing, has helped him understand us a lot. He is more than a coach; he is more like a father figure – or an elder brother for people like me who are fossils – to everyone. He understands and takes that part of his coaching job very seriously.”