Chhetri lauds youngsters in India’s eighth SAFF Championships title
Football captain Sunil Chhetri played a pivotal role in India’s eighth SAFF Championships title triumph but the 37-year-old credited the young brigade for the team’s victory.
“Look at the youngsters — it’s all due to their hard work. We were here for 20 days till the final, staying on an island, riding the waves every day for practice sessions, and matches,” Chhetri said in a release from All India Football Federation.
“We made it special as we were not so good in the first two games.
“It was tough from there to come up and play the way we did,” added Chhetri after his third triumph in the SAFF Championship.
Chhetri, who has won the regional tournament in 2011 and 2015 also, was referring to the draws against Bangladesh (1-1) and Sri Lanka (0-0) in the first two matches which had attracted criticism.
“Didn’t start like we should have, but ended exactly how we wanted to. Proud of this bunch and the way we got things back on track,” he later said in a tweet.
Chhetri, who scored five out of India’s eight goals, was all praise of the other two Indian scorers on Saturday — Suresh Singh and Sahal Abdul Samad.
“I enjoyed watching that, Sahal. Suresh, of all the things you copy from me, this is up there. Make it a habit,” said the captain.
Sahal, on his part, said it was an “unbelievable” moment and “a miracle”.
“I don’t know what happened inside the box. I came in for the last 4-5 minutes. My teammates have been working hard — it all goes to them,” he said. “I just don’t remember what happened inside the box. I got it and went in. This is an amazing feeling.”
Head coach Igor Stimac, who was banned from the dugout in the summit clash after being red carded in the earlier league match against Maldives, let the players take centre stage. “The boys have done it,” he said.
India dedicated the trophy to their two injured teammates — Farukh Choudhary and Brandon Fernandes — who weren’t able to travel to the ground.
While Mandar Rao Dessai and Glan Martins carried Brandon’s jersey with them, Rahul Bheke preferred to wear Farukh’s jersey even at the victory podium. “Farukh and Brandon are very much with us, and a part of this triumph. Their contribution in this Championship will never go unnoticed,” Bheke said.
“I wore Farukh’s jersey as I wanted him to be with us during the trophy celebrations.”