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AFC Asian Cup 2019: We needed to be braver on the ball, says Sunil Chhetri after India’s exit from showpiece event

Sharjah: India's all-time highest goalscorer Sunil Chhetri lamented the lack of guts shown by his players and him when in possession of the ball during the 1-0 defeat against Bahrain that saw the Blue Tigers crash out of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup in Sharjah on Monday.

Chhetri, who had a rather quiet game by his standards, was mostly starved off the ball and spent most of his time defending in his own half as Bahrain completely dictated the play especially in the second half.

 AFC Asian Cup 2019: We needed to be braver on the ball, says Sunil Chhetri after India’s exit from showpiece event

A dejected Sunil Chhetri looks on after India's loss to Bahrain. AFC Media

Speaking to reporters after the game, Chhetri felt India needed to be braver with the ball and should have kept it for a longer time to avoid being put under heavy pressure by their opponents.

"We needed to show more guts to keep the ball and needed to calm down because they were desperate and they had just two men behind the ball. So if we had kept the ball and made four passes we would have been two versus two. We probably didn't think at that time. We just kept defending and everything wrong that could have happened today, happened," a dejected Chhetri said after the game.

The 34-year-old conceded that his team did not perform to the levels it had against Thailand and UAE and felt the team subconsciously began to play for the draw as the game progressed.

"I don't think we played the same way that we played the first two games against Thailand and UAE and it tells you that at this level there is no 95%. You have to go 100% every game. Although I felt we did defend well, we defended too much. We should have kept the ball more. Sometimes when you just need a draw this is what happens. It's something that we learn today. I just hope we become stronger from here," explained the Bengaluru FC skipper.

However, Chhetri denied that the team had set out to defend and play for a draw, suggesting the situation of the game forced the players into that mindset.

"We weren't playing for a draw. Probably it was there in the back of our mind. We knew we had to press, but as the game went by the realisation hit us that it’s 70 minutes, 80 minutes, it's 0-0, let's keep it like that. So we defended deeper. It was the 89th minute and if the penalty doesn't happen you say it was a great defensive performance from India. It's just one of those days," Chhetri added.

The Indian also regretted not causing the Bahrain defence more problems as he felt it made them more comfortable in the game. Bahrain attacked using more men as they had little defending to do.

"They kept piling the pressure, they kept building on and it's not easy to defend for 90 minutes. At some point, we had to be brave and keep the ball. We threatened UAE in our last game. Today we didn't have enough chances. We didn't threaten them and it was easy for them," the forward assessed.

Constantine did a great job for India: Chhetri

Chhetri paid tribute to departing coach Stephen Constantine who announced his decision to step down from the post in the post-match press conference on Monday.

The forward revealed that the members of the Indian team were unaware of the coach's decision to resign and were only updated about the news after the game.

"We didn't know before the game. I think he spoke to us before he came and spoke to the press. I think he did really well for the country. If you see the records, the number of boys he has given chances and his overall graph, he has done really well," Chhetri said.

"I just want to thank him on behalf of the whole boys for doing a great job and I hope wherever he goes, I wish him all the luck," he added before signing off.

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Updated Date: Jan 15, 2019 09:04:16 IST