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India must have regular competition against the continent's top sides if they are to have any hope of taking their game to another level, captain Sunil Chhetri has said ahead of next month's Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates.
Since their last appearance at the finals in Qatar in 2011, India have played twice against a top-six Asian side when they were grouped with Iran for the Russia World Cup qualifiers.
Chhetri, who will lead India in just their fourth appearance at the finals, said they had to be given the chance to stretch themselves more.
"It's very, very important for us to keep playing against the big giants – the UAEs, the Australias, the Korea Republics," Chhetri told FIFA.com.
"It's one thing to do well against your neighbours, and without demeaning any one of them, it's a different thing when you go out and play the giants of Asia."
Cricket-loving India has a population of 1.3 billion but it is a massive underachiever as far as football is concerned. The national side is 97th in the FIFA rankings and yet to make an appearance at the World Cup finals.
The Asian Football Confederation's (AFC) decision to increase the number of finalists at the Asian Cup to 24 teams from 16 has helped the country return to the tournament.
"I was really dejected when we missed out on the last edition," Chhetri said of the 2015 tournament in Australia.
"I think it's very, very important for a country like us to keep qualifying for this big tournament, because that tells you where you are and if you're doing well.
"It also gives you a chance to rub shoulders with the biggest teams in Asia. If you do well, other teams take notice of you."
India, managed by English coach Stephen Constantine, are in Group A alongside hosts United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Thailand for the Jan. 5-Feb. 1 tournament and Chhetri is under no illusions about the task facing them.
"Without putting ourselves down, when you're India and you qualify for the Asian Cup any team that you face are going to be difficult," said Chhetri, India's record scorer with 65 goals and their most experienced player with 103 caps.
"In UAE and Thailand we have two teams who are very, very technically gifted. I think even Bahrain are going to be very physical.
"I'm just looking at it as one game at a time. I don't think we will be thinking about the mathematics of the group from the moment go."
Manchester City agree deal to sign US goalkeeper Steffen
Manchester City have agreed a deal that will see United States international goalkeeper Zack Steffen join them from MLS side Columbus Crew next July, the Premier League champions said.
The exact financial details of the four-year contract were not revealed but Crew said the transfer fee was the largest in their history and the highest received by an MLS side for a goalkeeper in the league's 23-year history.
"Today's (Tuesday) announcement regarding next summer is a special moment... I look forward to finishing my time with this club on a strong note. I am eager to continue to put in the work to improve and be the best team mate I can," Steffen said.
"This is a historic transaction for the club and a special moment for Zack we're immensely proud of... the announcement is the culmination of 2-1/2 years of development and success for Zack," Crew interim general manager Pat Onstad said.
The 23-year-old Steffen began his career with Freiburg, playing 14 times for the German side before switching to the Ohio-based Crew in 2016. He has made 63 regular season starts since his debut in 2017.
Steffen's strong performances earned him a call up to the national side, making his debut against Bosnia in January before playing five more times for the country this year.
Sinclair named Canada's top women's player for 14th time
Christine Sinclair, who is closing in on women soccer's international goal scoring record, was named Canada's women's player of the year for a 14th time on Tuesday.
Sinclair struck the winner in a 7-0 victory over Panama that secured Canada's place at next year's Women’s World Cup, helping push her tally to 177 career goals.
That is just seven behind retired all-time leader Abby Wambach of the United States, who scored 184 goals from 2001 to 2015.
The 35-year-old striker beat out last year's winner Kadeisha Buchanan, Jessie Fleming, Manchester City striker Janine Beckie and Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Ashley Lawrence in a ballot of Canadian media and coaches.
It marked the 26th year Soccer Canada has handed out the honour with Sinclair now having won more than half of them.
"Christine Sinclair showed that you can continue to add layers to your performance, regardless of age, if you work hard," Kenneth Heiner-Moller, Canada Soccer's women's national team head coach, said in a statement.
"Her great physical shape helped her play every minute for Portland Thorns FC and also led Canada to yet another FIFA Women's World Cup."
It was the 15th time in 19 years that Sinclair had led Canada in goals with eight in 12 international matches.