Kolkata: He might be India's highest goalscorer and the go-to man when it comes to scoring goals, but Sunil Chhetri on Monday said this team under head coach Igor Stimac does not need him to be successful.
"The Indian team doesn't need Sunil Chhetri to put up a good performance. I am just one of the 23 players in the team. I'm a little bit lucky and little bit more experienced. That's about it," Chhetri told reporters at the pre-match press conference ahead of the India-Bangladesh Group E Asian Qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup tie here.
Chhetri was not part of India's famous 0-0 draw against Asian champions Qatar last month due to illness. Asked how much the team missed him, the 35-year-old who has scored a record 71 goals in 111 appearances said: "It was because of my absence that they played so well in the Qatar game. That's what the players keep reminding me (laughs)."
The iconic forward said Stimac has no prejudices when fielding players in the starting XI and is sometimes not on the same page as him.
Since replacing Stephen Constantine in May, the Croatian coach has introduced a host of new faces in the King's Cup and Intercontinental Cup before playing the World Cup qualifiers.
"The importance on who is going to play is so less and the importance on the team is so important under him," Chhetri said.
"Whoever does well in training will play. Sometimes he defies what I think. He has come with no prejudice in this country. He doesn't know what you have done in the past. That is the reason we have done so well against Qatar.
"It doesn't matter who is going to play tomorrow. The team will play as best as we can and that is the beauty of the game we have right now."
Sitting beside him, Stimac was also quizzed about Chhetri and the 52-year-old, who was part of the Croatian team that finished third in the 1998 World Cup and helped them qualify for the 2014 World Cup, stated the talismanic marksman is more important than him.
"The numbers are there for everybody to see. No one can change that. I can tell you about Chhetri as a person, as a leader, as a human being. He's more important than me for this team. But as he mentioned, this game is not about Stimac or Chhetri, not about individuals but all of us. We all are one family," he expressed.
Since arriving in the city, Bangladesh players and coaching staff have stressed about Chhetri being their most important concern.
"Chettri is a big name in Asia. We have to mark him tightly. If we give space to big players they will punish you. But India have other good players who can win them but yes we must make sure Chhetri doesn't get the ball," Bangladesh's English coach Jamie Day said at the pre-match media interaction.
Chhetri was also asked about being marked by more than one player on Tuesday at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan.
"I'll be very happy if they mark me. If that happens then people will come to know about other players. It is not about me. If they mark me then it will be good as other players will get a chance to get on the scoresheet. We have a very talented team."
India lost to Oman 1-2 in their campaign opener in Guwahati before holding Qatar in Doha, and thus find themselves at fourth place in the five-team table with one point from two outings.
Bangladesh lost to Afghanistan and Qatar and are at the bottom of the group after two games.
BY DEBAYAN MUKHERJEE
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