Chhetri backs Stimac’s 4-week camp ahead of Asian Cup, wants match against likes of Iran, Japan or Saudi

PTI, Jul 9, 2023, 2:51 PM IST

Indian football captain Sunil Chhetri on Sunday backed head coach Igor Stimac’s demand to have a long camp of at least four weeks ahead of the Asian Cup early next year, saying the team needs to have enough preparation time to face the best teams in the continent.

The 38-year-old Chhetri, who will be playing his last Asian Cup in Doha (January 12 to February 10), also pitched for at least one international friendly match against a top-seven ranked country in Asia such as Iran, Japan or Saudi Arabia before the continental showpiece.

”We are going to face Australia, Uzbekistan and Syria in the Asian Cup (group matches), that is why Stimac (as well as goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu) have spoken about long camps. We need it and I really hope we get it,” Chhetri said in a virtual media interaction.

”When you go to the national camp, there are injuries to players and they come with different mental levels from their respective clubs. You need to take care of all these, and to do that you need more time,” he said, attributing the team’s success in the last two tournaments to a long camp of more than 50 days.

India won the tri-nation international tournament in Manipur (March 22-28) before clinching titles in the Intercontinental Cup (June 9-18) in Bhubaneswar and SAFF Championships (June 21 to July 4) in Bengaluru. The players were in the national camp from mid-May till the SAFF Championships.

Stimac had said he would need at least a four-week camp to do well in the Asian Cup while the All India Football Federation (AIFF) top brass had indicated that his demand would be difficult to meet as the clubs may not agree to release their players for such a long period in the midst of the domestic season.

”Eventually, how many days we get (for national camp) depends on the talks (among the stakeholders) but I really hope to get as many days as possible,” said the talismanic striker.

Chhetri, who was named the most valuable player after emerging as the top scorer in the SAFF Championships, also said the team needs to play at least one international friendly against a country ranked in the top-six or seven in the continent ahead of the Asian Cup.

”If we get at least two or three important international friendly games before the Asian Cup, including at least one against a country ranked in top six or seven in Asia, that will give us a good picture of ourselves and will make us more ready.

”If I throw the name, it could be against Iran, Japan or Saudi Arabia. If we don’t play against Japan, Iran or South Korea, we will not know the level of Australia (India’s strongest opponents in the Asian Cup).

”To prepare for these big matches against the top teams, we need a camp of four weeks. If we get five days of national camp we will not be ready for these big matches. To face Australia in the Asian Cup, we will need at least a couple of levels higher than what we are having in ISL, and for that we need longer preparation time.”

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