Chhetri wants away matches against tougher opponents

Chhetri wants away matches against tougher opponents

Sunil Chhetri

Indian football team captain Sunil Chhetri on Sunday said the country should play more international matches away from home and against stronger opponents in the next six months if it is to do well in the AFC Asian Cup tournament.

Chhetri said his team needs the best of preparations to make it count in the January 5 to February 1 event in the United Arab Emirates next year. 

"I'm looking forward to winning games outside the country which is very important. Our home record is fairly good but outside home, we have really struggled. I just hope in the next six months we get more away games against better opponents so that we can test ourselves. What we are facing (in Asian Cup) are the best in Asia," Chhetri said.

Chhetri, who turns 34 this August, does not feel that India has got an easier group this time as compared to the 2011 edition where the country was clubbed with Asian powerhouses Australia and South Korea as well as Bahrain. This time, India has been grouped with UAE, Thailand and Bahrain.

"If you say it can be easier because we are doing well that can be a valid point. But we can't say it is UAE, Thailand and Bahrain and so it is easier. Only because we are not facing Australia and South Korea people think it's going to be easy. It is not," he said. 

"UAE is ahead of us and they are playing at home. Thailand is the most improved side in Asia in the last six years. We played against Thailand in six-seven years ago and it was a 2-2 draw. They are competing with the best in Asia. Australia and Japan are finding difficult to beat Thailand."

Nonetheless, the star striker said his team "should look to take maximum points in their first match" if they want to proceed further in the tournament. India play Thailand in their opening match on January 5 in Dubai.

Chhetri will, no doubt, be playing in his last Asian Cup next year and he will be the only Indian to have played in two editions of the continental showpiece. He scored two goals out of three by his team in the 2011 edition in Doha. He has donned India jerseys 97 times so far and his 100th match is expected to come up during the four-team Intercontinental Cup to be held from June 1 in Mumbai, which will also involve South Africa, New Zealand and Chinese Taipei.

"It has been an unbelievable ride. I started out from Delhi and the only reason why I wanted to play India U-17 was to get a certificate to get into St. Stephen's. Whatever I have achieved now is something I have never dreamt of. I am living a dream and I am really happy about it. I could not have asked for anything more."