New Delhi: It didn't take one long to hit the right superlatives as the All India Football Federation felicitated Climax Lawrence and Mahesh Gawli - the two recently-retired national team veterans - on Tuesday.

"They have played 163 international matches between themselves and have been part of so many winning squads. I thank both for their dedication and contribution to Indian football," said AIFF general secretary Kushal Das.

He then handed over specially designed silver plaques and two national team jerseys, signed by all players, to the duo.

"It's sad that they have hung up their boots, but at the same time, it's a pleasure that they will continue to play club football," Das added.

Next to lavish praise was striker Sunil Chhetri, who started out when the two had already established themselves in the national squad.

Chhetri said the void left by the recent retirements of Climax, Gawli besides Baichung Bhutia, will never be filled.

"It will be unfair on the youngsters to compare them with Baichung, Climax or Mahesh because there places will always be difficult to fill. The gap is huge as the three of them together have played almost 260 matches.

"The youngsters should be free of pressure," he said. Going back to the days when he was a newcomer in the Indian team, Chhetri said, "When I first came into the national squad, both of them were established stars. But never for a moment did they throw any attitude. Rather, they were overeager to help me out. They have been exemplary disciplinarians."

Climax and Gawli, as usual, were modest amid the pouring tributes. "It's an honour to be felicitated by AIFF in such a manner," Climax said.

Gawli, the pillar of India's defence in the last decade, said, "There are a lot of upcoming and talented defenders in India at present like Arnab Mondal, Raju Gaikwad and Anwar Ali."

Climax picked qualifying for the Asian Cup by winning the AFC Challenge Cup in 2008 - which broke a 24-year drought - as the most memorable moment in his career, and hoped the present lot would continue the trend in the upcoming edition in Kathmandu.

"Last time, we were part of the triumphant AFC Challenge Cup squad. It will be tough this time but I am sure the boys will give their best and fight it out," Climax said.

Gawli said, "I have full faith in the present bunch of boys and hope to qualify again."

Climax, who called it quits after being omitted from the AFC Challenge Cup squad by coach Savio Medeira, said he will never regret his decision.

He also believed that there departures are not going to the affect the team much.

Gawli felt the sport in the country has changed over the past few years.

"The face of Indian football is fast changing. The scenario has changed a lot from the time we first burst into the national squad. More overhauling is due in the next five years."

Gawli has played in 82 international matches while Climax has 81 to his credit.

While Gawli has been a part of seven winning squads - two Nehru Cups (2007 and 2009), two SAFF Championships (2005 and 2011), LG Cup (2002), Bristol Freedom Cup (1998) and the AFC Challenge Cup; Climax has been part of five triumphant squads - two Nehru Cups (2007, 2009), two SAFF Championships (2005 and 2011) and the AFC Challenge Cup in 2008.

Das, meanwhile, said if the country hosts the U-17 World Cup, it will boost the image of Indian football.

"It will be the turning point for Indian football," he said.

The national team players, who are scheduled to leave for Dubai on Wednesday for a preparatory camp for the forthcoming AFC Challenge Cup, were also present at the felicitation ceremony.

(Agencies)