Chhetri in line of friendly fire

Sports

In the seven months he has spent in Portugal, Sunil Chhetri has played for only 46 minutes. He hasn't managed to force himself into the starting XI even once and is still waiting for his first league goal. Of the 15 times he has been named in the squad, the 28-year-old striker has come on as a substitute three times while has stayed on the bench on 12 occasions.

These are worrying facts for any top level footballer, let alone who is the best player and skipper of his national team. And even though chief coach Wim Koevermans will not accept it, he will be worried about his skipper's form and fitness as India prepare to take on Palestine in an international friendly on Wednesday.

Chhetri's move last July to Sporting Lisbon 'B', the reserve team of a club that is among Europe's elite, was met with much fanfare. The move generated a lot of curiosity in Portugal, and he announced his arrival with a goal in a warm-up match 10 days after signing for them.

Between then and now, Chhetri has managed only three substitute appearances (twice in the dying minutes against Freamunde and FC Braga B and once in the 53rd minute against Uniao Madeira). In fact, the match against Madeira in December was the last time he appeared for Lisbon.

Koevermans has been quite supportive of his captain, offering to travel to Lisbon to help him out. But the situation hasn't changed much. Chhetri's lack of fitness was evident when he came off with a muscle injury during India's 2-0 defeat to Singapore in a friendly in October.

Koevermans believes that Chhetri is benefitting from practising with top-quality players in world-class facilities. The Dutchman did not comment directly when asked if lack of match practice for Chhetri concerned him. Instead, he said: "There's a quite a lot of talent in India but just that they are not playing regularly. I see that as a concern for a few players."

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