Don't Have Words to Explain Sunil Chhetri's Greatness: Anirudh Thapa
Anirudh Thapa said it's huge for him to be sharing the dressing room with Indian football icon Sunil Chhetri.
Anirudh Thapa (R) said it was "like a dream" for him to be playing alongside Sunil Chhetri. (Photo Credit: AIFF)
Kolkata: Anirudh Thapa is quickly turning into a midfield linchpin for the Indian football team, and the young footballer credits head coach Igor Stimac for his composure in the middle of the park.
Thapa, 21, is an integral part of Stimac's midfield and was part of both the World Cup qualifiers against Oman at home and Qatar on the road and is expected to play an important role against Bangladesh at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan here on October 15.
Seamlessly fitting into Stimac's possession-based football, the Chennaiyin FC player has featured predominantly in the No. 8 position, tasked with pulling the strings and shielding the back four, alongside Rowllin Borges who is the pivot.
"Playing under Stimac has changed me a lot. He teaches us a lot of new style of football. He is sharing his experiences and from that we are learning a lot of things," Thapa told IANS on Friday from Guwahati where the players are currently in a preparatory camp.
"For me personally, I am getting more composed and calm under him. We are learning a new style of football which is helping us."
Highlighting the competition for places in the team, Thapa said he is on his toes all the time and can't take anything for granted.
"We have great technical players here who have great abilities, so it is difficult for me as I have to fight for my position. It's not easy for me. In every position, we have 3-4 players who can easily play with same ability. I need to give my best everyday and learn whatever he is teaching us and from other players' style," he said.
India narrowly lost to Oman in Guwahati 1-2 before pulling off a famous goalless draw against Asian champions Qatar on September 10. But the Sunil Chhetri-led side are still to register a win and are languishing at fourth position in the five-team points table.
"After the Qatar match, our confidence was high. It was not easy to hold them for 90 minutes, that too in their own backyard," Thapa said.
Qatar had 27 shots and 68 per cent possession but still failed to find the back of the net as goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu put on a spirited show along with the backline. In the second half, Thapa was particularly impressive.
"Bangladesh match will also be a difficult match for us as they are not an easy team. We are approaching the game in a different way. We need three points," said Thapa who won the Indian Super League with Chennaiyin in 2017-18 and was voted the emerging All India Football Federation (AIFF) player of the year last year.
"They will approach in the same way, they also will want to win. So it will be a difficult match for us. We need be more focussed and more creative. We need to score early goals and that's what will make the difference."
Talking about his rapid rise, Thapa said being part of the AIFF academy helped a lot.
"It was a great journey, At the age of 15, I was with the AIFF academy. It made me learn a lot of new things. At that age, people are figuring out what to do in their lives and I had my goal.
"I learnt a lot of things there, groomed myself. AIFF helped me a lot. I got so many opportunities. The club I am in right now. The pressure I can take, as I was with the national team from that age."
Thapa further said that it was his dream to play alongside Chhetri who he also saw on television while growing up.
"It is like a dream for me. I never thought it would happen for a boy like me. He is one of the top 10 goalscorers in the world and that is not easy. We belong to a country where football is not famous and person sitting next to you has done it. It's a big thing and sharing the dressing room... I don't have words to explain his greatness. It is a big thing for me as a 21-year-old boy who has seen him on TV while growing up."
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