Mumbai : India captain Sunil Chhetri wants the national football team to play more away games this year as it prepares for the AFC Asian Cup in 2019.
Chhetri, who is currently playing for Bengaluru FC in the Indian Super League (ISL), feels each and every player who dons the India colours needs to raise his game by a few notches so that coach Stephen Constantine has a headache while picking the team every time.
“We need to play enough matches away. We generally do well at home, but our away record hasn’t been good. We should try to get teams from 16 to 8 (AFC rankings) ranking. It’s difficult to play South Korea and Japan as they don’t want to play us. We should get teams who are better than us and play at their home. This is from the organisation side,” Chhetri told IANS in an interview here.
“From the players’ side, we need to improve ourselves, making sure that the competition for the national team increases and it is a big headache for the coach. It should be tough for him to choose the players and whenever that happens he gets the cream,” the 33-year-old said.
India qualified for the Asian Cup by beating Macau in the qualifiers last year in October.
The last time India played in the world’s second-oldest continental football championship was in 2011 under British coach Bob Houghton. Chhetri was an integral part of the team, scoring two goals in the group stages in what was only India’s third appearance.
India did not win a match and bowed out, letting in 13 goals and scoring just three.
Chhetri said India should look to play teams like the United Arab Emirates (UAE), who are also hosting the Asian Cup, on the road.
“We are at the bottom, man. Whoever we get is going to be better than us,” Chhetri said when asked to name the teams they should play friendlies with leading up to the tournament, starting in January next year.
“In 2011, we got No 1, No 3 and No 5 — Australia, South Korea, Bahrain (in the main round). It couldn’t have been worse than that mathematically. This time we got Kyrgyzstan, Macau and Myanmar (in the qualifiers). With due respect to them, it wasn’t very difficult.
“We should aim to play the UAE, Qatar, Oman, Palestine and Lebanon (in the friendlies),” Chhetri said.
There are talks of a four-nation Champions Cup taking place this year in India. Chhetri said the tourney would have no bearing on India’s rankings as it is outside the FIFA dates, but the match practice would do a world of good to India’s preparations.
“Now it’s not about the rankings because we have qualified. Having said that, the arrangements of the groups matter in terms of ranking but keeping all these things aside, playing at home those three-four-nation tournament…
“I hope we get better teams to play against,” he said.
Coming to his club Bengaluru FC, which is at the top of the ISL standings now, Chhetri said it doesn’t have the pressure of expectations and takes one game at a time.
“The motto in our club is to think about the next game — the way we won two Federation Cups and the I-League by taking one game at a time. The motto has not changed,” he said.
Just married to long-time girlfriend Sonam, daughter of former India and Mohun Bagan defender Subrata Bhattacharya, Chhetri signed off tongue-in-cheek, saying he now knows the prices of “onions and tomatoes”.
“The last 10-15 days after marriage… I have enjoyed my time. I think me and Sonam have seen each other for 13 years but we never lived with each other. She was always a tourist wherever I played. Now living together, it’s nice, man. More because, apart from the fact that she is my wife and I love her… we are also very good friends,” he said.
“She understands my job. So there was no need of telling her that I have to come back and sleep and take a nap… everything is nice because she understands. Later in the evening, we watch Netflix. We go for walks. We went to buy grocery the other day and I realised I haven’t taken walks for a long time. I know the rates of onions and tomatoes now (laughs).”
Australia refuse to tour Pakistan for proposed ODI matches, cite safety concerns
Melbourne: Australia has turned down Pakistan Cricket Board’s request to play two One Day International (ODI) matches in the country, citing security concerns. The PCB had asked Cricket Australia to play two of the five ODIs, which are slated to be played in UAE, in Pakistan, but security concerns made Cricket Australia decide against the same.
According to The Sydney Morning Herald, though the proposal has been rejected by the Australian cricket board, it has assured the PCB that they would be open to the idea in the future.
“We want to see international cricket return to Pakistan – the country has a huge passion for it,” said a CA spokesperson.
“However, the safety of our players and support staff is our number one priority and we won’t compromise that. We’ll continue to take advice from a range of government agencies and our own security intelligence and act on this accordingly.”
“At this stage, from an Australia team perspective, we are not contemplating moving our current bilateral-tour arrangements from taking on Pakistan in the UAE, when they host the next series but we do remain open to the idea of playing in the country again. We formally advised the PCB of this position in early January,” he added.
The PCB has in return, declined reports of Australia refusing to tour Pakistan, terming negotiations with Cricket Australia (CA) as currently ‘open and ongoing’.
Australia have not played an away series against Pakistan since 1998 which PCB chairman Ehsan Mani had attempted to address during the former’s recent Test series against the Asian side.
Mani attempted to convince CA chief executive Kevin Roberts to schedule an away series against Pakistan, urging them to follow the lead of Sri Lanka, West Indies and Zimbabwe who had toured the nation since 2017.
Sri Lanka’s return was hailed as a major boost considering the deadly attack on their players in Lahore in 2009.
Australian ODI captain Aaron Finch and Pakistan-born Usman Khawaja have recently expressed a desire to tour Pakistan, in case the security concerns were addressed.
“Obviously, whatever Cricket Australia tells us, that’ll be the big thing. We’ll leave it to the administrators. They’re pretty good at taking care of us and making sure everything’s safe,” said Khawaja.
“I was born in Pakistan so it won’t be too different for me, but it’s still a while away,” he added.
Federer ponders over his ‘miraculous’ career after Murray’s early retirement prospect
London: As the tennis world continued to digest the prospect of Andy Murray`s retirement, an evergreen Roger Federer pondered the “luck” of his longevity on Sunday ahead of his bid for a hat-trick of Australian Open titles.
Murray`s announcement that Melbourne Park could be his last tournament as a professional has made 37-year-old Federer`s career seem all the more miraculous.
Seeking a 21st Grand Slam title and a record seventh in Melbourne, the Swiss will plough into his 20th consecutive Australian Open on Monday with a first round clash against Uzbek Denis Istomin.
While suffering an assortment of niggles common to all hardened professionals, Federer`s only major layoff came in 2016, after he tore his meniscus when running a bath for his twin daughters.
It happened a day after losing the Australian Open semi-final to winner Novak Djokovic, but a year later, he was back raising a fifth trophy at the tournament.
While knowing the limits of his body and full of praise for his team for being able to patch him up repeatedly, Federer admitted that fortune had played a part in his longevity.
“I definitely needed a little bit of luck,” he told reporters at Melbourne Park.
“If you look at how unlucky things were with the incident here a few years ago when I ran the bath, I guess the knee, that part of the body was ready to go.
“Could have happened easily in the match against Novak, but it didn`t, maybe because I was warmed up. I have no idea what happened. I think you also need a little bit of luck.”
The 31-year-old Murray has been far less fortunate, with major hip surgery a year ago doing nothing to stop the pain that has driven the Scot to distraction and the brink of retirement.
Barcelona on lookout for striker after Munir sale: Coach Ernesto
London: Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said that the club were looking to sign a centre forward in the January transfer window after selling Munir El Haddadi to Sevilla.
The league leaders want back-up for Luis Suarez after Sevilla agreed a one-million-euro ($1.15-million) deal to buy Spain international Munir on Friday, leaving the Uruguayan as the only No. 9 at the club, playing between Lionel Messi and Ousmane Dembele.
“We have to look at it, it`s clear that after Munir`s departure we have a space,” Valverde told reporters on Saturday.
“We`ll see if we can sign a player, although we have to take into account the club`s economic conditions. We will see if we can, if someone comes.”
Asked about Chelsea striker Alvaro Morata, who has been linked to Barcelona in Spanish media reports, Valverde said: “I can only say the same thing — that he`s a great player, that he`s at another team, that we respect that a lot, etcetera.”
Barcelona are currently leading the La Liga with 40 points, with Atletico Madrid trailing them in second place with 35 points.