FIFA WCQ: ‘India vs Bangladesh a 50-50 contest in front of a boisterous Kolkata’

“The difference between India and Bangladesh on the football pitch? Of course Sunil Chhetri,” Bangladesh’ veteran midfielder Mamunul Islam told the indianexpress.com in a candid conversation. Since arriving in the city, the Bengal Tigers and their coaching staff have all stressed about Chhetri being their primary concern.

Chhetri had to sit out of India’s previous match against Asian champions Qatar in Doha after he was laid low by a virus. But the Indian captain is fit and raring to go in the Group E match against Bangladesh in Kolkata on Tuesday.

In the training sessions over the past couple of days, a lot of Bangladesh’s tactics involved close marking inside the box. Was that strategy being developed to stop the Indian talisman from doing damage?  Bangladesh assistant coach Stuart Watkiss wasn’t in the mood to give out any details but once again earmarked Chhetri as the main threat.

“Obviously, Sunil is the most dangerous player because of the number of goals he has scored,” the 53-year-old said, before adding, “He’s a super player, super player with a super goal-scoring record.”

Echoing his views, Bangladesh’s head coach Jamie Day, at the pre-match media interaction, said, “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 matches but yes we must make sure Chhetri doesn’t get the ball.”

The Indian captain was unwilling to get drawn into the hype and instead chose to play down his presence in the team.

“It was never about me, it will never be about me. It’s always about India versus Bangladesh. I’m just one of the 23 players. I definitely have been lucky to have a little bit more experience and that’s about it. There’s no dependency on me from my teammates. We are one and we are going to play like one,” Chhetri said on the eve of their group E fixture.

“I will be happy if they mark me. 1,2,3 or I hope 4 of them will mark me. Then it’ll be 10 vs 6 on the pitch and people will see Udanta, Ashique, Sahal, Manvir Singh, Balwant are better. You’ll see it tomorrow.”

“If indeed 4 people are marking me then four of us will have tea,” he said.

“I generally don’t try hard to score as it comes naturally. I really don’t mind who scores because all we need is the three points,” he further added.

Adding to it, Indian football team head Coach Igor Stimac said, “Being favourites doesn’t matter. We need to step up and perform because it’s 11 vs 11 on the pitch. Working together as a team will be crucial. We all need to respect each other, and make sacrifices for the team.”

India face Bangladesh at the Salt Lake Stadium in the hope of getting their first three points.

Bangladesh lost to Afghanistan and Qatar and are at the bottom of the group after two games.