The Blue Tigers’ skipper recently scored a brace to help his team win against Bangladesh.
Sunil Chhetri is more than just a footballer. He’s an icon, a savior and an all-time legend too. The prolific striker has been the face of Indian football for more than a decade now and has guided them to lofty heights in the process.
Since making his debut in 2005, Chhetri has made 117 appearances for the Blue Tigers and scored a record 74 goals. It’s the most among all the active players in the world, after only Cristiano Ronaldo (103) – let that sink in!
Through all these years, he’s given the Indian fans plenty of moments to cheer. Whether it’s a peach of a strike or just bailing his side out of a tight corner, Chhetri has done it all.
In light of his recent match-winning heroics against Bangladesh, here’s Khel Now taking a look at five occasions when Sunil Chhetri single-handedly won the match for India:
5. India 1-0 Myanmar – AFC Challenge Cup (August 2008)
Sunil Chhetri won his first international trophy with India that year. By then, he was already hailed as their ‘next big thing,’ having scored 11 times in just 23 games for the Blue Tigers. But, the striker truly announced himself to the world with his heroics in the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup.
The hosts reached the semi-finals after comfortably negotiating the group stage. However, Myanmar were proving to be a tough nut to crack. With the match winding down and looking increasingly likely to go into extra-time, they needed a moment of inspiration to clinch the tie.
In comes Chhetri. He popped up with an 82nd-minute winner to send the Blue Tigers into the final, where he scored a hat-trick in a 4-1 victory over Tajikistan, as Bob Houghton’s side won the title.
4. India 3-1 Vietnam – International Friendly (October 2010)
Just over two years later, Chhetri bagged his second-hat-trick, albeit in less significant circumstances. India played Vietnam in a friendly game and needed a big result following the loss to Hong Kong just days earlier. The striker stepped up to the plate and went hell for leather.
He followed up his first half goal with another one soon after the break to give India a two-goal cushion. Vu Nhu Thanh pulled one back for the visitors from the spot and it seemed like the match wasn’t in the bag yet. But, Chhetri then rounded off his treble soon after, with a fantastic strike to put the match beyond doubt.
3. India 2-0 Nepal – FIFA World Cup Qualifiers (March 2015)
Given India’s rankings back then, they had to go through a two-legged clash in the first round of the World Cup Qualifiers to progress into the next. The Blue Tigers drew neighbours Nepal and beat them 2-0 in the first leg. No prizes for guessing who scored the goals.
Following a cagey first half, the sides were inseparable at 0-0. But, the Indian No. 11 upped the ante after the break, netting twice to give his side a two-goal cushion ahead of the return leg. A goalless stalemate in Nepal meant it was enough for Stephen Constantine’s side to advance, thanks to Chhetri’s earlier heroics.
2. India 2-0 Kenya – Intercontinental Cup (June 2018)
India’s last triumph in the Intercontinental Cup had Sunil Chhetri written all over it. He was the tournament’s top scorer and later awarded the best player too. The striker was on target in all four games, including an opening game hat-trick against Chinese Taipei and put on an inspired performance in the final to guide the Blue Tigers past Kenya.
He opened the scoring early on after flicking Anirudh Thapa’s inch-perfect free-kick into the net. Although the Harambee Stars regrouped thereafter and looked threatening on the break, India continued with their offensive gameplay. Just before the half hour mark, Chhetri then smashed home a lovely finish to double their advantage.
Kenya never recovered from that and the hosts lifted the title.
1. Bangladesh 0-2 India – FIFA World Cup Qualifiers (June 2021)
India’s flailing World Cup hopes were squashed after the loss to Qatar last week. But, with Asian Cup dreams still alive, the Blue Tigers had to win their game against Bangladesh to avoid going into the playoffs and managed to do just that.
It was turning out to be another dour performance from Igor Stimac’s team, who lacked any sense of direction and purpose for much of the game, as another draw seemed imminent. But, Chhetri had other plans.
The veteran netted twice in the final 10 minutes of the match – a brilliant header from a tight angle followed by a stoppage-time goal – to down Bangladesh. India are now up to third in Group E.
Cometh the hour, cometh Sunil Chhetri.