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regular-article-logo Saturday, 20 April 2024

Merdeka Cup: Sunil Chhetri gears up for 'different' game against Malaysia 

Chhetri hopes that out of the 87,000 fans at the Bukit Jalil, a sizeable number would be rooting for the Blue Tigers

Our Bureau Calcutta Published 12.10.23, 09:58 AM
India football captain Sunil Chhetri during a training session in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday.

India football captain Sunil Chhetri during a training session in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday. AIFF

India will like to utilise the unique opportunity of playing in an 87,000-seater arena as an away team, as they gear up for Friday’s match against Malaysia in the Merdeka Cup.

India are placed 102 in the Fifa rankings, while hosts Malaysia, are ranked 134.

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Chhetri, who joined the national team on Tuesday night, said, “It feels good to be back with the team. It will be different here (Kuala Lumpur), we are playing away from home and we’ve heard of the hostile reception we could get on matchday.

“But it’s not common for us to get to play such matches away from home, and this will be a very good opportunity for us to better our away record. It’s a good test, and we are all looking forward to it,” Chettri told the-aiff.com. The 39-year-old striker is aware of the history and weight that the name Merdeka carries, but is solely focused on the road ahead.

“I know our past teams have done well in the Merdeka, and the more recent ones have not done that well. It’s an extremely important tournament for Malaysia, but we are only thinking about our first game right now. We need to focus on it and win the game, before thinking about other things,” he said.

Malaysia is well known for its Indian diaspora. Chhetri hopes that out of the 87,000 fans at the Bukit Jalil, a sizeable number will be rooting for the Blue Tigers.

“I’ve heard it would be a full house, but I hope a few Indian fans are also there. Being Indians, we tend to get fans wherever we travel, so I hope all the Indian fans, whoever can afford the tickets, can make it to support us,” said Chhetri.

The Blue Tigers travelled to Kuala Lumpur on Monday with a squad of 21 players, while Sandesh Jhingan and captain Chhetri joined the team a day later.

Earlier in the day, the Blue Tigers squad of 23 for the Merdeka Tournament was announced. “We have a squad of 23, but four of our players — Anwar Ali, Subhasish Bose, Manvir Singh (all Mohun Bagan Super Giant), and Brandon Fernandes (FC Goa) — are carrying injuries from their club engagements,” head coach Igor Stimac said.

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