Kolkata: Talismanic skipper Sunil Chhetri and goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu will have to play leading roles on and off the pitch, if India are to do well in the upcoming Asian Cup football tournament, feels former captain Bhaichung Bhutia.
India, who qualified for the Asian Football Confederation’s flagship tournament after a gap of eight years, have in their ranks a lot of youngsters, complemented by the experience of Gurpreet and Chhetri. Both of them were part of the Doha Asian Cup back in 2011.
India, who lost all their matches back then and bowed out of the group stages, take on Thailand on January 6, before facing hosts United Arab Emirates (UAE) on January 10, and Bahrain on January 14.
“Two persons will be very crucial — Sunil Chhetri and Gurpreet Singh (Sandhu). Both have the experience of playing AFC. India have a young team and their guidance will be the key on and off the field,” Bhutia told.
The 42-year old Sikkimese icon, who was the captain of the side in 2011, maintained that his former teammate Chhetri will have to take up the mantle of looking after not only his game but also his lesser experienced colleagues who might get overawed by the stage.
“Especially for Sunil, it’s not about his own game but also guiding the players, keeping their focus off the ground and giving them confidence. He has to be the leader off the ground and see that they don’t get carried away,” Bhutia said.
Asked about India’s chances in the competition, Bhutia pointed out that their first assignment against lower-ranked Thailand will make or break them.