The Indian football team rode on a Sunil Chhetri hat-trick as they put four past a hapless Pakistan side to kick-off their SAFF Championship 2023 campaign at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium, in Bengaluru, on Wednesday.

This was one of India’s biggest victories against their arch-rivals, helping them take the top position in Group A after Kuwait recorded a 3-1 win over Nepal earlier on Wednesday. India, the defending champions, also extended their perfect win record this year, winning their seventh straight game.

With that, here are the key talking points from India’s dominant win against Pakistan:

Chhetri continues to make history

Chhetri made the headlines after he scored yet another hat-trick in national team colours. It took the 38-year-old just 10 minutes to open the scoring after a blunder from the Pakistan keeper before netting another one from the spot, six minutes later. Chhetri completed his hat-trick in the 73rd minute after converting yet another penalty, which helped him achieve a new feat in his international career.

He surpassed Malaysia’s Mokhtar Dahari, who netted 89 international goals, becoming the fourth-highest goalscorer in the history of men’s football. The Indian football team captain is now just 10 goals away from reaching 100 international goals, a feat achieved by only three players - Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal), Lionel Messi (Argentina) and Ali Daei (Iran).

Chhetri also became only the third Indian player to net a hat-trick against Pakistan after Puran Bahadur Thapa and IM Vijayan.

A new clean sheet record for Blue Tigers

India’s defence seems to be getting better and better with each passing game. With their victory over Pakistan, India have now registered seven clean sheets in a row - a new milestone, and eight on the bounce at home soil starting from their 4-0 win over Hong Kong in the AFC Asian Cup 2023 Qualifiers.

Since Igor Stimac took charge as India head coach, India had only managed six clean sheets across 26 games during three years from 2019-2022. However, the Blue Tigers are yet to concede a goal this year, maintaining a perfect record of shutouts in the Hero Tri-Nation Football Tournament and the Hero Intercontinental Cup. A solid defence has been the foundation behind India’s recent victories and the Blue Tigers have transformed themselves into a side that is hard to beat.

Udanta Singh makes a mark

Udanta netted his first and only international goal back in 2018 against Chinese Taipei in the Hero Intercontinental Cup. Coming off the bench, the Manipur-born winger got his name on the scoresheet with a well-taken strike in the 81st minute, adding to Pakistan's misery. Udanta latched on to a long ball from Anwar Ali, taking a few touches before slotting past the keeper with aplomb.

The 27-year-old has had his share of struggles over the years, but slowly seems to be regaining his confidence with Igor Stimac placing full faith in him. With competition for places within the squad at its peak, FC Goa’s new signing will be determined to take his place back into the starting eleven.

A new partnership blooming in defence

Forming a solid partnership at the heart of the Indian defence, the centre-back pairing of Sandesh Jhingan and Anwar Ali has worked wonders. While Jhingan has been a mainstay in the Indian defence for the past few years, promising defender Ali has made the position his own following his senior team debut last year.

The duo put on a commanding display in defence against Pakistan, helping India nick another clean sheet. While Ali provided the assist for Udanta’s goal, Jhingan came close to scoring from a free-kick as his header came off the woodwork.

Having provided opportunities to several players during his tenure as India head coach, Stimac finally seems to have settled on his first-choice centre-back pairing.

India’s strength in depth

Stimac rang in three changes from their victory against Lebanon in Sunday’s Hero Intercontinental Cup final, shuffling players particularly in his defensive line. Goalkeeper Amrinder Singh, Pritam Kotal and Subhasish Bose were among the trio that were included in the starting eleven against Pakistan and hardly put a foot wrong.

While keeper Singh was hardly troubled between the sticks, experienced full-backs Kotal and Bose put on a solid shift in defence, nullifying the attacks mounted by the Pakistan opposition.

Stimac also possesses a rich variety of attacking options that he can introduce off the bench, capable of bringing on players such as Naorem Mahesh Singh, Liston Colaco and Nandhakumar Sekar, who are capable of influencing the game.

“As far as I am concerned, India looks a very organised side. Very disciplined, very compact and (a team with a) clear idea of what needs to be done and with many players to use. That’s our richness,” Stimac had said earlier.