Updated June 5th, 2024 at 19:51 IST

'The suits are made': Sunil Chhetri on if he would take back his retirement if India qualify

Sunil Chhetri, who has had a distinguished 19-year career, announced that the second-leg match against Kuwait would mark his final international appearance.

Sunil Chhetri | Image: AP
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Indian football icon Sunil Chhetri, on Wednesday, sought to shift the spotlight from his impending retirement to the team's pivotal FIFA World Cup Qualifier against Kuwait. A victory on Thursday would nearly secure India’s first-ever entry into the third round of the FIFA World Cup qualifiers, with the finals set for 2026 in the USA, Canada, and Mexico.

Last month, Chhetri, who has had a distinguished 19-year career, announced that the second-leg match against Kuwait would mark his final international appearance. "I think most of us have met already 20 days back and we have spoken about my last game. That's done," Chhetri stated, emphasizing the importance of the upcoming match over his personal milestone.

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He appealed to the media to avoid questions about his retirement to maintain the team's focus. "We are here only and only to speak about Kuwait and India... please don't make it worse asking 'how are you feeling,' again and again," Chhetri pleaded, highlighting the significance of the game.

When asked if he would reconsider retirement if India qualifies for the third round, Chhetri humorously responded, "No sir, the suits are made, I'm going to go and watch the boys play as a fan. It's been 19 years I had a great ride, and this is it."

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India's match against Kuwait is crucial, especially after a surprising 1-2 loss to Afghanistan in March. Chhetri remains optimistic, envisioning India competing against top teams like Japan and Australia in the third round, creating an electrifying atmosphere for Indian football fans.

Also Read: Should Virat Kohli open alongside Rohit Sharma in T20 World Cup? Sunil Gavaskar gives his verdict

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'Things will change' 

A qualification to the third round will put India in the bracket of top 18 teams in Asia and they will vie for the eight coveted spots for the 2026 World Cup. The 18 teams will be divided into three groups of six sides each and will play on a home-away basis.

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"I've worked 19 years for the national team and we have not been in this position before. I can feel goose bumps but I want the boys to be relaxed tomorrow.

"But this is huge because once we win it, you know what's there in store, things will change. It's going to be magical also. No pressure on us but one thing is for sure we want to give everything tomorrow. Hope all of us can enjoy tomorrow.

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'Don't come back again'  

Chhetri further said the NexGen strikers "can't wait" to take up the role of No 9. Chhetri, though, dons No 11.

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"Manvir (Singh) can't wait, I'm sure Siva (Sivasakthi Narayanan), can't wait, Parthib (Gogoi)... I see Rahim (Ali) staring at my eyes and asking, 'pakka aap wapas nahin aaoge na...' (You're not coming back right).

"They know the door is now open. There are so many who can do well and they can't wait they just want 'ek baar apne bol diya dobara mat ana galti se ab' (once you have announced it don't come back my mistake)," he said.

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'No' to coaching  

Asked whether he contemplates taking up coaching role in future, Chhetri came up with a big "no" and, sitting beside coach Igor Stimac, he said, "I don't want to age faster like him." "Five years back I saw this man come, he was very good looking, young and now look at him after five years. He has aged 15 years in five years.

"I don't think I can be a coach because I'm too selfish and I want to think about myself. Honestly, I want to think about myself, I don't want to think about anything else, my game and stuff.

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"It is not easy... enough of putting an alarm and waking up at 5'o clock, enough of the match, permutations, this match and that match." Stimac ended the conversation by saying, "I hope to see you as the (All India Football Federation) president one day." 

(With PTI inputs)

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Published June 5th, 2024 at 19:51 IST