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England are the dark horse: Sunil Chetri

Sunil Chetri during the FPAI awards at the Calcutta Sports Journalists’ Club on Tuesday.
A Telegraph picture

Calcutta: Like most others, Sunil Chetri too is very, very excited about the World Cup and is a fan of Lionel Messi. But Messi's Argentina don't find a place in his top four picks.

For the India captain, Germany, Brazil, Spain and France are the teams to watch out for in Russia.

Speaking on the sidelines of the Football Players Association of India awards function at the Calcutta Sports Journalists' Club on Tuesday, Chetri, adjudged the Indian Player of the Year, said: "Spain are the team I really like to watch. I just love their style of play... The way they play...

"To me, Germany, Brazil, Spain and France are the teams to watch out in this World Cup. Yes, England are the dark horse, while Belgium are also a strong team this time around."

But what about Messi and Argentina? Chetri replied: "Being a Messi fan, I hope he scores and Argentina do well.

"It doesn't really matter that Messi hasn't been able to win the World Cup. He has already proven that he's the best in the world and an extraordinary player. That's good enough and it's always a treat to watch whenever he plays."

Chetri, though, didn't single out any player who could turn out to be the star of the month-long battle for supremacy in Russia. "I wouldn't single out anyone.

"In fact, I'm really excited to watch the best players taking on each other. There are so many of them. It's really difficult to separate one from the other, so just stop whatever you are doing and enjoy the game," he said.

He further said that Messi and Ronaldo may play the 2022 edition of the World Cup too if they keep themselves fit and in shape. "I don't think this would be Messi or Ronaldo's last World Cup. They keep themselves so fit.

"But let's turn our attention to (Andres) Iniesta as well, who is such a gifted footballer. This is set to be his last World Cup, so let's enjoy him in action," Chetri said.

The other evening in Mumbai, Chetri equalled Messi in terms of international goals scored (64), but he rightly rubbished the comparison. "When you hear about such comparisons, you feel happy for five seconds, and then get back to your work and forget it.

"There's no comparison whatsoever. Messi and (Cristiano) Ronaldo are two of the best players playing the game. But we are Indians. So, when such comparisons again come up, it's better to be happy for five seconds and then forget about it," Chetri commented.

Coming back to Indian football, Chetri is well aware of the strides the national team has to make if it has to put up an impressive show in the Asian Cup in UAE next year. By the skipper's own admission, India's competitors in the Asian Cup will be a few levels higher than what they came across in their triumphant Intercontinental Cup campaign.

"Look, all of us want to do even better. Yes, we did well in our last tournament, but we can't get carried away. We must work harder keeping our heads down and focus on improving in every aspect.

"The Intercontinental Cup has been a great preparatory tournament for us, because you don't get to play teams such as New Zealand and Kenya very frequently. But having said, teams like Thailand, Bahrain and UAE are two-three levels higher than New Zealand and Kenya. So, Asian Cup is a different level altogether.

"Hope everyone comes in December fit and injury free," Chetri elaborated.

Asked about getting fitter even after having crossed 30, Chetri replied: "After reaching 30, I understand what works for me and therefore, I stick to those that help me stay in shape and fit."

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