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Playing top Asian sides key for India, says Chhetri

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New Delhi : India must have regular competition against the continent`s top sides if they are to have any hope of taking their game to another level, captain Sunil Chhetri has said ahead of next month`s Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates.

Since their last appearance at the finals in Qatar in 2011, India have played twice against a top-six Asian side when they were grouped with Iran for the Russia World Cup qualifiers.
Chhetri, who will lead India in just their fourth appearance at the finals, said they had to be given the chance to stretch themselves more.

“It`s very, very important for us to keep playing against the big giants – the UAEs, the Australias, the Korea Republics,” Chhetri told FIFA.com.

 

“It`s one thing to do well against your neighbours, and without demeaning any one of them, it`s a different thing when you go out and play the giants of Asia.”

Cricket-loving India has a population of 1.3 billion but it is a massive underachiever as far as football is concerned. The national side is 97th in the FIFA rankings and yet to make an appearance at the World Cup finals.

The Asian Football Confederation`s (AFC) decision to increase the number of finalists at the Asian Cup to 24 teams from 16 has helped the country return to the tournament.

“I was really dejected when we missed out on the last edition,” Chhetri said of the 2015 tournament in Australia.

“I think it`s very, very important for a country like us to keep qualifying for this big tournament, because that tells you where you are and if you`re doing well.

“It also gives you a chance to rub shoulders with the biggest teams in Asia. If you do well, other teams take notice of you.”

India, managed by English coach Stephen Constantine, are in Group A alongside hosts United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Thailand for the Jan. 5-Feb. 1 tournament and Chhetri is under no illusions about the task facing them.

“Without putting ourselves down, when you`re India and you qualify for the Asian Cup any team that you face are going to be difficult,” said Chhetri, India`s record scorer with 65 goals and their most experienced player with 103 caps.

“In UAE and Thailand we have two teams who are very, very technically gifted. I think even Bahrain are going to be very physical.

“I`m just looking at it as one game at a time. I don`t think we will be thinking about the mathematics of the group from the moment go.”


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I-League clubs shooting themselves in foot: AIFF secretary

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Mumbai : All India Football Federation (AIFF) general secretary Kushal Das has finally decided to break his silence on the raging controversy that has hit the federation after seven I-League clubs decided to “boycott” the Super Cup last month.
Expressing his deep disappointment over the attitude of the clubs, Das said he was pained to see how certain clubs in the I-League were maligning the federation almost on a daily basis.
Speaking to IANS, Das made it clear that the aggressive stance taken by the I-League clubs would only complicate matters.
“At times, there are clubs, who, on a regular basis, bring the federation to disrepute by saying all kinds of things. That is something not acceptable. No federation in the world would tolerate this kind of things.
“The clubs are always free to give their opinion, but cannot malign the parent body. Statements like the AIFF is a sold out body and partial is absolutely not acceptable and strictest measures have to be taken,” Das added.
I-League clubs had refused to play the Super Cup in Bhubaneswar in March demanding an immediate meeting with AIFF president Praful Patel to decide the future roadmap of Indian football. However, the clubs did not return to the field even after Patel assured them of a meeting in April. Some clubs alleged the federation was working against their interest.
The matter has now been referred to the disciplinary committee, who will meet in Delhi on April 27 and 28 to decide on the issue.
Das said the clubs were trying to create an issue that simply does not exist. “Instead of coming together to discuss the matter with the federation and our marketing partners, they (the clubs) have almost tried to rebel against the federation. That won’t help. They wanted to meet the president and the president always said he would meet them. In fact, he was busy and was travelling. He sent a communication in this effect. He said he would meet them between April 10 and 15. Now he is upset that the clubs still rebelled against the whole thing and did not play the Super Cup. Not playing football is not a solution. That’s absurd.
“By creating negativity, they are shooting themselves in the foot. Indian football has a long way to go and all stakeholders will have to work together to take it forward. Clubs have to be patient,” said Das, who was formerly with the International Cricket Council (ICC).
Das was convinced the model adopted by the AIFF that would have a top league as ISL followed by the next tier, which could be the I-League or League One, is the best possible way to take Indian football forward both in terms of quality and marketability.
“There has to be a top league, followed by the next tier. There is no truth in some I-League clubs saying that they are being “killed”. While all the national team players are playing in ISL, I-League clubs are also developing players, the emergence of Jobby Justin and (Michael) Soosairai are prime examples. They have now moved to ISL. The clubs have the scope to earn revenue by developing these players. In four-five years’ time, there could be relegation/promotion once the contractual obligations (in ISL) are over,” he said.
The AIFF general secretary felt starting the relegation/promotion system immediately would not be feasible since Indian football is still not financially sustainable.
“We do not have a system right now where when a team is relegated, they could be protected like the parachute payment, which is there in major European leagues. In India, the clubs have sponsorship, they have certain amount of investment, but if they are relegated, many of the sponsors may move away. We have to reach that stage before we introduce changes,” he said.

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We have firepower to post 300-350 in World Cup: Sarfraz

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KARACHI: Pakistan skipper Sarfraz Ahmed believes he won’t be under any pressure while batting up the order in the World Cup and his team is fully capable of posting 300-350 with regular frequency in the mega event that commences in England from May 30.
The ICC Champions Trophy winning captain was speaking to Dawn over the phone in an exclusive interview .
When asked whether wicket-keeper-batsman Mohammad Rizwan, after scoring two fine centuries against Australia in the UAE at an impressive strike rate of over 90, put him under any sort of pressure during the final team selection, Sarfraz said: “First of all, there is no pressure on me. Call it Rizwan’s bad luck if you wish, that I am the captain of the team and a wicket-keeper too. Obviously, it was a very difficult decision for us to drop someone who has been in such a terrific batting form,” said Sarfraz. “I do feel bad for him. But, we had to choose four players for the middle-order. So, we went ahead with Babar Azam, Haris Sohail, Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Hafeez. Unfortunately, Rizwan couldn’t make the cut.
“But, it’s a good thing that our bench strength is solid enough to have players like Rizwan waiting in the wings. God forbid, if an injury occurs to someone on the tour, we know we have him in the back up,” he said.
“The team is fully capable of scoring 300-350 runs while setting up a target or chasing. We have some very good players in the middle and lower order,” said Sarfraz. “Imad has been in superb batting form for the last 2-3 months. He has batted brilliantly of late. We have Shoaib Malik who can be very handy. Then we have Faheem Ashraf as well who can hit the ball far. We have worked very hard with him in the camp. So, I am very hopeful that quick scoring down the order won’t be an issue.”
Pakistan will be playing their first two games against West Indies and England in Nottingham where the recent scores were in excess of 400. It is, coincidentally, the same ground where England smashed Australia all around the park last year and went on to record the highest ever ODI total of 481. However, that doesn’t stop Sarfraz from believing that his team can chase or defend any . “I have full confidence in the abilities of my players. I know they will give their best,” he said.
Defending Malik’s selection despite his woeful batting record in England, Sarfraz said that the team is not thinking about batting averages currently. “Our focus is entirely on the World Cup at the moment. [Shoaib] Malik is our most seasoned campaigner. We will try to make the most of the combined experience of Shoaib Bhai and Hafeez Bhai. They are the backbone of our team and they themselves realise the importance of performing in such big tournaments. We need them because the pressure of playing in World Cups is completely different from featuring in a regular game.”
Sarfraz also made it clear that Hafeez will bat at No. 4. “Hafeez Bhai has been batting at No. 4 for the last one and a half year or so. His slot is set and he will be seen batting at the same position.
“If you look at our squad, only four players have competed in a World Cup before. The rest of them are relatively new and have never played a single World Cup game, although 11 of them featured in the Champions Trophy played two years ago at the same venues,” he observed.

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After Gambhir, Irfan Pathan wants to take the political plunge

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Mumbai :Days after former teammate Gautam Gambhir took his political plunge, Indian pacer Irfan Pathan expressed his wish to join politics.
Pathan, who cast his vote in Vadodara , said that he’s keen to serve the country.
“I have played cricket for the country and now will serve the country when the time demands,” said the 34-year-old cricketer while speaking to reporters after casting his vote.
Pathan also congratulated Gambhir for his new innings in politics.
He later took to Instagram to share the following image:
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has fielded cricketer-turned-politician Gautam Gambhir from the East Delhi Lok Sabha constituency. He has been pitted against Congress’ Arvinder Singh Lovely and Aam Aadmi Party’s Atishi.
“I really want to contribute something to the country and whatever our Prime Minister has done in the last five years. I want to take that legacy forward. I will try to work as much as I can with an honest heart and clear intentions,” Gambhir told ANI during a roadshow on Tuesday. Gambhir was formally inducted in the BJP on March 22.

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