Going past Messi: Remembering Sunil Chhetri's most memorable goals for India
It's not hard to describe Sunil Chhetri's contribution to Indian football. Simply put, the word you are looking for would be 'immeasurable'. For years, the iconic striker has been the talisman for the national team after having taken over the mantle from the legendary Bhaichung Bhutia. On January 6, 2019, Chhetri, yet again, justified his billing after inspiring the Blue Tigers to a historic 4-1 win over Thailand in their opening match of the AFC Asian Cup 2019. The victory was India's first win in the continental showpiece since 1964.
Chhetri scored a brace in the match taking his international tally to 67 goals and in doing so, he went past the iconic Lionel Messi. The Argentine wizard has scored 65 goals for his country. Only Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo (85 goals) has scored more than Chhetri among the currently active players. The enormity of this achievement isn't too hard to fathom, but for Sunil, personal milestones have never been too important. In an interview after the match, the India no. 11 reacted with the typical humility associated with him and said, "I don’t take it too seriously. I mean there’s no comparison whatsoever between me and Lionel Messi or Ronaldo. But I’m very, very, honoured. I don’t take it for granted - the kind of goals that I score for my country. Every time I get an opportunity, I’ll do my best to score for my country."
However, for fans, the occasion does call for a look back at some of the living legend's most iconic goals in India colours.
Debut goal vs Pakistan
There's no better way to introduce yourself to Indian football fans than a debut goal against arch-rivals Pakistan and a 20-year-old Chhetri announced himself on the international arena by doing exactly that. Playing his very first match for the Indian senior team, he bagged his maiden goal at Quetta on June 12, 2005.
Hat-trick vs Tajikistan to help India qualify for AFC Asian Cup 2011
On August 13, 2008, Sunil Chhetri scored a hat-trick to help the Blue Tigers beat Tajikistan 4-1 in the final of the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup. The triumph also earned the Blue Tigers an automatic qualification to the AFC Asian Cup 2011 in Qatar. The striker's heroics ended India's long 24-year hiatus from Asia's biggest footballing competition.
50th international goal
Chhetri became the first Indian footballer to score 50 international goals for his country in a World Cup 2018 Qualifiers match against Guam on June 16, 2015. India lost the match 2-1, but the goal will always be remembered as a slice of important history for the sport in the country. Chhetri overtook Bhaichung as India’s highest goal scorer in a friendly match against Nepal back in 2013.
Goal vs Kyrgyz Republic to help India qualify for AFC Asian Cup 2019
Chhetri scored the solitary goal for India in a 1-0 win over the Kyrgyz Republic in an AFC Asian Cup Qualifier match on June 13, 2017. The result eventually turned out to be a crucial one, as India topped Group A, beating out Kyrgyz Republic on goal difference, to seal a spot in the AFC Asian Cup 2019 in UAE. Incidentally, the match was played in Bengaluru's Sree Kanteerava Stadium - the home ground of Chhetri's Hero ISL club Bengaluru FC. It was also a brilliant goal and one of the best scored by Chhetri in India colours.
Brace against Kenya in Hero Intercontinental Cup 2018 final
.@chetrisunil11 put in a captain's performance with two goals as the @IndianFootball team saw off Kenya to be crowned Hero Intercontinental Cup champions!#INDvKEN #BackTheBlue pic.twitter.com/wxSOYrTesi— Indian Super League (@IndSuperLeague) June 10, 2018
Chhetri's big-match-player credential was further fortified with a brace against Kenya in the final of the Hero Intercontinental Cup on June 10, 2018. The veteran striker almost singlehandedly guided the Blue Tigers to the trophy and scored both the goals in India's 2-0 win in the final.