Sunil Chhetri made his international debut nearly a decade ago, but the chance to take the field against the big teams has been hard to come by. On Tuesday, Chhetri will have his wish granted.
The 31-year-old — much like his teammates — views this 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier (AFC second round) match against Iran as a rare opportunity to test his skills against the best in the business.
“This is definitely the most challenging match of my career. I’m happy, because I have actually never played against the senior Iran team. I did play against them in the 2006 Asian Games, but the squads there consisted of primarily under-23 players.
“I’ve got this opportunity after playing international football for 10 years — this is something that I relish. This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance, so you have to do everything you can to do well,” Chhetri, named the skipper for this fixture, said here on Monday.
For Iran, this encounter is a more routine affair in its quest to move closer to a World Cup spot. Under Carlos Queiroz, whose impressive resume includes stints as manager of Real Madrid and the Portugal national team, the team has had a fairly comfortable time in this qualification run.
A 6-0 thrashing of Guam a few days ago more than made up for a disappointing 1-1 draw recorded against Turkmenistan earlier.
In Sardar Azmoun, Team Melli has a star in the making. Azmoun — he has scored three goals in the two second round ties so far — plays for Russian Premier League club FC Rostov, and reportedly evoked interest from English giants Arsenal and Liverpool earlier this year.
Midfielder and captain Andranik Teymourian is already familiar having represented Bolton Wanderers and Fulham in the past.
The home team, which has slumped to 2-1 losses in both its engagements, will welcome the return of defender Sandesh Jhingan, who missed the Oman and Guam matches due to a shoulder injury.
Along with Jhingan, playmaker Eugeneson Lyngdoh gave India something to cheer about in an otherwise disappointing goalless draw against Nepal recently.
The forwards — Chhetri, Robin Singh and Jeje Lalpekhlua — will do well to make the most of any chances that may come their way here.
The trio, and the rest of the India crew, cannot afford to stray off track even for the briefest of periods.
Live telecast on Sony Kix (7 p.m. start).