The Blue Tigers’ talisman enjoyed a solid tournament and finished as its top scorer.
The Indian football team lifted their first title under coach Igor Stimac as they were crowned champions of the 2021 SAFF Championship. India first topped the round-robin stage with two wins and as many draws to book a final berth. The Blue Tigers capped off the tournament with a 3-0 victory against Nepal in the final. This was also India’s third consecutive win against the Gorkhalis and eighth SAFF Championship title. Sunil Chhetri broke the deadlock for the Bue Tigers with his 80th goal for the Indian national team, which ties him with Lionel Messi among the highest international goalscorers.
Chhetri is also only behind Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo (115) in the list of highest active goalscorers in international football. Suresh Wangjam and Sahal Abdul Samad then completed the victory with their debut international goals.
After India’s dominant win against Nepal, skipper Sunil Chhetri spoke about his third SAFF Championship crown:
Thoughts on latest edition of SAFF Championship
The Blue Tigers emerged as the champions of South Asia for a record eighth time. Sharing his thoughts, on this edition of the SAFF, Sunil Chhetri quipped that it was tough and India’s poor start only made it much more difficult. “This tournament was really tough. We didn’t start the way we wanted to. Against Bangladesh, we were 1-0 up, but we conceded even though they were 10 men. The second game was against Sri Lanka which wasn’t easy also, we missed a lot of chances,” the Indian captain recalled.
“But, to come back from there and play the way we did against Nepal and Maldives at this ground, it wasn’t easy. And to play against Nepal the way we did, it gives us a little bit of satisfaction,” he added. “We could have done a lot of things better. We really want to improve on a lot of things as we are a young side. So many things that we could have done better, but of course, when you end up winning a tournament you feel happy. We’ll go back to the drawing board and try to improve as much as possible.”
Thoughts on his future with the national team
Chhetri is one of the best things that has happened to Indian football. The Indian icon is 37 now, but it feels like he is still in his mid-20s. There’s no stopping him, from not just leading the team from the front but also in terms of scoring goals.
“I’m enjoying my time here. I’ll keep going and keep working hard till that time I can and till that time the national team wants me,” Said Chhetri when asked about his future with the national team.
Sunil Chhetri is the most experienced member of the current national team setup. He is often looked at as a role model by everyone in the dressing room. All the players follow him, his instructions, both on and off the field. But the captain thinks he is too old for young players to follow his instructions.
“I’m just too old for them. Some of the boys are born in 2002, that’s when I started playing. So, I’m just too old and I think they have no choice but to listen to me. I try to use my experience, sometimes probably I go emotional, but just me being there and trying to guide them, helps us a lot,” said Indian football’s highest scorer and appearance maker.
“I try to stay positive and try to help them. But, just by your voice and experience is one thing. I also have to make sure that I contributed with my game which is not easy. I have to make sure that I keep doing well and keep improving because all the youngsters are pushing a lot,” added Chhetri. “There are a lot of things that we can improve. And of course, when you win a tournament, everything is hunky-dory.
“I’m pretty sure we’ll go back and analyse so many things that we can improve on. We’ve got Asian Cup Qualifiers coming up which is not going to be easy. Today, we want to enjoy and celebrate. But, just from tomorrow, we’re going to start thinking about it. We all go back to our clubs and train hard. And whenever we come back to the national team, we just want to give our best,” Chhetri concluded.