Indian football team has turned into a decent home side but it is in desperate need for away games, says inspirational skipper Sunil Chhetri, who feels the next target for the country should be a top-10 place in Asia so that the big guns invite them over.
The 33-year-old was India's top-scorer with eight strikes in the just-concluded Intercontinental Cup which India clinched with a 2-0 win over Kenya in the final on Sunday in Mumbai.
The prolific skipper is now aiming for a strong showing in the Asian Cup next year where India are clubbed with UAE, Bahrain and Thailand.
"For Asia Cup, the first thing that we need is to play many tough nations in away games. Well, whom we should be playing depends on the AIFF and our chief coach (Stephen Constantine) but we need away games now," Chhetri told PTI during an interaction on the sidelines of a promotional event organised by KIA Motors.
"Look, let's be honest. With our rankings (97), we can't invite the better-ranked teams at home. Also, we are a decent team at home. It's our away game that needs to improve," he added.
Chhetri, who yesterday equalled Lionel Messi's 64 international goals, further explained: "In my mind, the first goal is to get inside Asia's top 10 nations. We have to accept that we are still not there. Teams like Saudi Arabia, Iran or Australia are better than us."
While India were way better than their opponents Kenya and Chinese Taipei, the New Zealand match did show a lot of weaknesses in the Indian line-up.
Asked if there's a plan B in place if the first team stopper duo of Sandesh Jhingan and Anas Edathodika get injured, Chhetri tried to rationalise.
"You have to accept that there will be a difference between the first XI and the reserves. That's why they are first XI players. They are better than the reserves. I know Salam Ranjan (Singh) is young and inexperienced. But more matches that he plays, he will only get better," he said.
"If we take the New Zealand game, we had made six to seven changes. The moment there are so many changes, it will be difficult for the reserve boys to come in play like the first team boys.
"If there's one change, then there are 10 others to carry forward the momentum. But yes, I would like the reserves to improve to a level which gives the chief coach a lot of headache. Ranjan should try to get himself to the level of Sandesh and Anas," the skipper said.