World Cup qualifiers: Chhetri wants India to play as a cohesive unit in opener against Kuwait
New Delhi, Nov 13 : As the Indian team gears up for a massive game against Kuwait in Round 2 of the FIFA World Cup 2026 and AFC Asian Cup Saudi Arabia 2027 Joint Qualification campaign, talismanic striker Sunil Chhetri has asked the team to play as a cohesive unit and put it across their opponents.
India will take on Kuwait in an away clash on Thursday and the squad is currently training in Dubai for the match. India will also play Afghanistan and Qatar in the group stage.
This will be Chhetri's fourth pre-World Cup campaign and the 20th match in the quadrennial tournament, an Indian record. He has nine goals to his credit in the pre-World Cup, again the best by an Indian footballer to date.
Despite having set so many records for India, the 39-year-old is once again eager to lead India's charge into Round 2 of the FIFA World Cup 2026 and AFC Asian Cup Saudi Arabia 2027 Joint Qualification campaign.
Though India never managed to cross the initial stages and made it to the final rounds in the Asian regional qualifying stages, Chhetri feels is in the right stage to take a historical step.
"I think we are at the right stage. This team probably has a strong side. Also, I must admit that we are in a strong group. Some really good sides are clubbed with us. But I think we are prepared, barring a few injuries here and there. It's a team that has played together for some time. And a lot of youngsters are there. Yes, we look good," Chhetri told aiff.com from Dubai.
Asked what has transformed the team, Chhetri said, "I think it is just the morale of the team, or what has happened in the last six, eight months. A lot of boys have taken their places in the team. And that is why we are probably more prepared. Also, the World Cup qualifiers are happening at a time when a lot of us have a decent amount of game time under our belts. all these things do matter.
"Over and above, we played Kuwait twice a few months back, so we have better knowledge of them, though it works on both sides. We have played Qatar at least thrice in the last three years, which again helps. And we always know Afghanistan. We have played them enough," said Chhetri.
"So I think whenever we play these teams, we might play good or bad, but we will not be surprised by what we are playing against. Barring the away tie in Kuwait, we are aware of the atmosphere for the away matches against Afghanistan and Qatar.
"So that is why I said we are more prepared. We have to turn up on the pitch and perform well. Our team have always relied on hard work, team spirit, and being together. A lot of other teams have individual flair and other things. Probably, we are not that team. And I've got no qualms in accepting that," said Chhetri.
The India striker also listed India's good home record as a strong point.
"At home, we have done decently well. In away games, we haven't. If we have to go to the next round and be among the 18 best teams in Asia, we have to rectify our method. Here, every point in every game does matter, because the top two teams of every group qualify. So, we really have to work hard while starting against Kuwait in the away match. It's a difficult one. But, as I said, barring a few injuries, I think we are well prepared.
"At the same time, these 18 teams won't have to play the qualifiers for the next Asian Cup. So, we can qualify automatically and reach the next round of the World Cup qualifiers, too," said Chhetri.
A few Indian players are nursing injuries, but Chhetri said they can't dwell too much on that.
"I think I want to restrain myself from talking about the injuries because I think a lot of importance has been given to the injuries of some of the team members. I love them. They know it and I'll miss them. But it's done. It's gone. I've made peace with it that they're not going to be here. Otherwise, It will take a lot of focus away from the boys who are going to replace them. We always say that we are a team rather than a bunch of individuals. Whoever is here will have to play and make sure that we give a good account of ourselves," said Chhetri.
Chhetri said India have enough firepower to breach the rival goal.
"If you see the stats of (Lallianzuala) Chhangte, Mahesh (Naorem Singh) and Sahal (Abdul Samad)'. I'm taking these names because they've done really well in goal assists. We don't play with two strikers under Igor's (Stimac) system. But these three boys have done really well in creating chances, assisting and scoring a few important goals. So, it is more of me being the lone man ahead and these three coming and helping as many as possible and also going back and defending well.
"We also have Brandon (Fernandes) with a lot of experience. I think the three boys in the last 8-10 games have done really well. Playing with two strikers is a little bit different, to be honest, a tad different from playing a lone striker. But I've done it at the club level. And I understand it fairly well," he said.