Sunil Chhetri admits he will have sleepless nights about a guilt-edge chance he squandered that could have yielded a famous win for India against Asian Cup 2019 hosts the UAE on Thursday.
The veteran captain, 34, headed straight at Whites stopper Khalid Essa during the first half of the Group A encounter at Zayed Sports City Stadium, while team-mate Ashique Kuruniyan also wasted another glorious chance with the game at 0-0.
Khalfan Mubarak then broke the deadlock before the break to leave impressive India chasing the game, Al Jazira clubmate Ali Mabkhout sealing a 2-0 win for the hosts late on.
Chhetri, India’s leading appearance maker with 106 caps and leading goalscorer (67), believes the Blue Tigers would have had their more illustrious opponents on the ropes had both opportunities been grasped.
But he is also not dwelling too long on the negatives as they go in search of a first knockout round berth at the tournament since 1964 against Bahrain on Monday.
“Those two chances man. I think me and Ashkuri will not sleep for a long, long time,” said the India icon, only half joking, after the game.
“They were routine chances. In training if you give us those chances 10 times, we would score eight out of 10. If we scored them, we would have had them where we wanted them. We had the upper hand.
“They scored and we had to go for the game. We did and we got the chance and we hit the bar, if that goes in things are different.”
Apart from those two early chances, India struck the crossbar twice and generally enjoyed the better of the game, but Alberto Zaccheroni’s hosts were more clinical.
But Chhetri is delighted his team – who beat Thailand 4-1 in their opening game and are in a good position to qualify, lying second in the group – are making opponents take notice, having being eyed as cannon fodder heading into the tournament.
“Young lads. That’s the good thing. They don’t come with prejudice of who they are facing,” said Indian Premier League side Bengaluru forward Chhetri.
“Before the UAE, Thailand and Bahrain are not thinking too much about this opponent. With all due respect to all three sides they are difficult sides and better sides than us. But the boys are chilling, listening to their music and they just want to go and do their best.”
Asked to reflect on what could have been an historic night for India on Thursday that ultimately ended in disappointment, Chhetri added: “No-one is going to come and help us, it’s us that have to look after ourselves.
“I want them (my team-mates) to recover well and be proud of the game they played and learn from our mistakes and be a better unit on the 14th. Our task is the same, we just go to Bahrain and win.
“It would have been good had we got at least a point today but we know what we have to do on the 14th and we’re going to go there and do our best.”
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