HT NxT: ‘Don’t keep long-term targets but do dream of playing 2023 Asia Cup,’ says India football captain Sunil Chhetri

India football team captain Sunil Chhetri does not want to think too far ahead but at the same time he is not ready to rule out the possibility of him playing in the 2023 Asian Cup in China. India have managed to reach the third round of Asian Cup qualifiers and stand a good chance to book a berth in the main rounds of the tournament but by then Chhetri will be 39.

In a conversation with senior sports journalist Dhiman Sarkar on Day 1 of Hindustan Times’ virtual HT NxT, Chhetri said there are multiple hurdles but he does look forward to representing India in the marquee event.

“Somewhere down the line it’s there (the dream of playing in the 2023 Asian Cup). I don’t keep long term targets and this is a very long one. But it’s there. It will be very fruitful and satisfying if I can be a part of the tournament. But again, before that, there are many hurdles. First of all, we have to qualify, I have to be there with the team for the next another two years which is not easy.

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“So, yes! One thing at a time. Let’s qualify for the tournament, and if the coach wants the team needs me and I’m still fit, I’d love to be a part of 2023 (Asian Cup),” Chhetri said.

Chhetri who is India’s all-time highest goal scorer with 75 goals to his name, narrated how he had felt when India failed to qualify for the next round of 2019 Asian Cup after a heartbreaking 0-1 loss to Bahrain in the last group stage encounter.

“Unlike others, I didn’t know if I’m going to make it to the next Asian Cup. It was a double blow for me. Also, the high of the first game, and I think we have had one of the best games against UAE. We were outstanding in that game and then not qualifying was…, when I was looking at the boys, all the young faces, it was killing me. The next day we had to fly back to our destinations.

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“I didn’t want to see those faces because they were so down and demoralised. You are already fighting your own demons but then, since you are the most experienced one, you got to make sure that everyone tries to keep their head high. That day was one of the worst.

“But then, we again wanted to be in the Asian cup. As a country, we again wanted to play that tournament. So that’s how you shrug it off. For the players and team as a whole. But for me, every game might be the last game for my country, I never know. For me, there is no need for extra motivation,” Chhetri added.

Chhetri will try to fulfil his dream when the third round of qualifiers begin in February next year.

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