Abu Dhabi: India’s star striker Sunil Chhetri rued missed chances and owned up for the team’s 2-0 loss against the UAE, but vowed that his side will come back strongly in the last Group A AFC Asian Cup fixture against Bahrain to ensure a place in the last 16.
India created ample scoring opportunities against their much more fancied rivals, but couldn’t convert any. The framework also came to the rescue of the hosts twice.
“I will not get sleep for sure for a long time,” said a dejected-looking Chhetri, whose close-range header was blocked brilliantly by UAE goalkeeper Khalid Eisa before seeing another grounder graze agonisingly past the far post.
“I think those two chances are still killing me. Had those two chances gone in, things would have been so different. We would have had them exactly where we wanted. Even if one goal had gone in, it would have made UAE more desperate and things would have been so different,” said Chhetri, who acknowledged that UAE showed their class by converting half chances. UAE’s Khalfan Mubarak overlapped from behind and scored off a measured ball from Ali Mabkhout just before the breather. Mabkhout, too, got into the scoring act towards the end to seal a crucial win for UAE as they were held by Bahrain to a 1-1 draw in the opener.
“In these big games, it is these small margins that count. In the second session, Udanta Singh hit the crossbar and then sidebar. If at the beginning of the match anyone would have told me ‘you will get five chances and hit the post twice’, I would have taken it and backed myself to score. But it was clearly one of those days when you do everything and it doesn’t click,” said Chhetri, still shaking his head in disbelief.
Chhetri, who was made the skipper for the match as per coach Stephen Constantine’s rotation policy, said the team talk immediately after the match was not to think negative at all.
“I said, ‘chin up boys’. I don’t want the young boys to think that something drastic has happened because come in four days, nobody is going to come and help us as we have to go and play. I don’t want to think too much negative,” said Chhetri adding that, there will be a lot of things they will learn from the videos.
“You can’t ask more than that from the boys. You can’t ask more from a Thapa or Pranoy, a young Udanta or Sandesh. It was like they gave their lives and I’m really proud of that. Hopefully, next match we are ones who are in the positive side. We will not shy away from fighting. We will fight till the very last minute, no matter whatever happens. And that’s what’s gonna happen against Bahrain as well,” asserted Chhetri, who had scored twice against Thailand.
India coach Stephen Constantine was of the view that his side created so many chances that it was enough to ‘win not one but two games’.
“Problem is, when you don’t convert chances, they tend to come back and you pay for it. Last game, we converted, today we didn’t. The UAE I think had three shots on goal, one hit the post and the other two were goals,” said Constantine adding that, the team deserved at least a draw from this game as the boys gave absolutely everything.
“I just felt that we didn’t convert and we paid for it. We hit the bar twice and a couple of brilliant saves by the goalkeeper and a couple of chances we should’ve scored. I have 23 bitterly disappointed boys and you couldn’t say that few years ago. We would come here to lose 2-0 and be quite happy. They know we could’ve taken something from this game. We have another game and we look forward to it. Hope we can convert the chances we make,” said Constantine, adding that he has told the boys to hold their heads high and feel as if they have won.
“We got another game in four days and we’re going to win it and qualify. We’ll get ourselves back and hopefully get the result that we need to qualify.”