Doha: Bengaluru FC captain Sunil Chhetri feels that his club making it to the summit clash of the AFC Cup heralds a beginning in the revival of Indian football.
Bengaluru take on Iraq's Al Quwa Al Jawiya in Saturday's final at the Qatar SC Stadium at Doha.
"Bengaluru reaching the AFC Cup final in the host country of the 2022 World Cup, and hopefully winning it, has signaled the beginning of the revival of Indian football as an Asian power," said Chhetri who is also the India captain.
The 32-year-old striker, who has scored 51 goals in 91 international caps, said that Qatar's Indian community — the largest expatriate group residing in the 2022 FIFA World Cup host nation — will help his side create history for Indian football in their adopted homeland.
"There is no better place in Asia for this revival to begin than in Doha, which will host the next Asian World Cup," Chhetri was quoted as saying by www.sc.qa.
"We've already reached out to the Indian community in Doha and have begun receiving such warm responses promising support for the final. I am confident our fellow-Indians living in Doha will turn up at the Qatar SC Stadium in large numbers on 5 November. I would like to tell them that our appearance in the final is not just about the city of Bengaluru or the province of Karnataka.
"It is about India and its revival in Asian football in your adopted homeland, which will host the next Asian World Cup," said Chhetri, who has plied his trade in the reserve team of Portuguese giants Sporting Lisbon and in the MLS for the Kansas City Wizards.
Chhetri scored two goals in Bengaluru's 3-1 second leg win at home in the semi-finals against defending champions Darul Ta'zim of Malaysia, thereby helping his side in sealing an aggregate 4-2 triumph. He was in Doha as part of the national team for the 2011 AFC Asian Cup, the first time India qualified for the elite continental competition since 1984.
"I had never thought of it before winning the semifinals, but I think I have a special bond with Doha," he said.
"I hope my connection with the city helps my club win the final. The Asian Cup was a big learning curve for Indian football, and I managed to score two goals as well against Bahrain and South Korea," he said.
"However, the AFC Cup final is a different ball game. It is about signaling India's resurgence in the Asian scene. We've battled through for a year and made it here."