India football team captain Sunil Chhetri recently announced that he will hang up his boots for the national team after the forthcoming World Cup Qualifier match against Kuwait on June 6, which will be played at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan in Kolkata.

In the early hours of Thursday, the Blue Tigers captain shared this tough decision through a heartfelt video message on his social media accounts. The veteran forward, who has immortalised his name in the history books of Indian football with his scintillating performances and exemplary work ethic, is set to draw the curtain on his illustrious international career after serving his country for almost two decades.

“It’s been a month. It started with a feeling and an instinct that it was time to call it a day. And it grew in me slowly and steadily every day. Finally, I reached this decision. And I think I made the right decision,” Chhetri told while speaking about his retirement.

“This (match against Kuwait on June 6, 2024) is one of the biggest games of my career. It is hugely important for the national team. So, hopefully, we will do well against Kuwait and should be there for the (World Cup Qualifiers) third round,” he added.

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Sharing the reaction of his family members when he first conveyed his decision to them, Chhetri said, “It was a mixed feeling. But when I did tell them, everyone understood. I believe my entire family is proud of whatever I have accomplished. I've done this for 19 years. They are immensely happy.”

“I think it's one of those things that everyone knew was coming. But when I told them, they were a little bit shocked but understood that I'm fighting my own battles inside. You don't wish to stop playing for the country. But one day you have to, and you will be fine,” he continued.

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Chhetri’s legendary international journey is adorned with a record-making 150 appearances (the highest by an Indian player) during which he reached several heights in Indian football and was awarded numerous prestigious accolades such as the Khel Ratna Award, the Arjuna Award, and the Padma Shri. From scoring in his debut game against Pakistan back in 2005 to becoming the third-highest international goalscorer among active players (fourth overall), his 19-year-long prestigious career has not only marked a new era in Indian football but also become a noteworthy path for upcoming youngsters to follow.

“It's outstanding. It's a dream. I don't know where to start. But the synopsis is that it's a beautiful dream,” the India captain felt short of words while summarising his glorious journey.

“I think I'm highly, highly fortunate and privileged to be a part of the national team for 19 years. It's outstanding to be able to participate and play for the country. This is something no one can take away from me. I'm grateful to everyone who has contributed. And I'm not trying to sound cliché; I genuinely mean it. That's the feeling that I get,” he further added.

The Blue Tigers currently find themselves in second place in Group A of their FIFA World Cup qualifying group, standing just behind Qatar. The upcoming home game against Kuwait will be pivotal for the nation’s quest to qualify for the third round, barring the next away fixture against Qatar.

The 39-year-old opines that the opportunity to play his final game on Indian soil is the primary reason behind his decision to retire prior to the Qatar game.

Speaking in context, he said, “Yeah, but then, let’s say it was just an instinct. We're playing at home, that's in Salt Lake. It will not be the same (as playing away). And I'm pretty confident this way or that way. Even if you need some points against Qatar, our team is quite capable. I think my team is ready. So, everything combined to make me decide that June 6 is my last game for the country.”

Chhetri is quite optimistic and realistic about the team doing well in the upcoming two crucial games to create a new chapter in Indian football by qualifying for the third round of the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers.

“Yeah, but for my own sake, for my own satisfaction, that thing will be a secondary part of the equation. The first thing is to test for the country, man…we’ve got to because this is in our hands now. We got to win at home to give us a great chance of qualifying for the third round, which we haven’t done yet,” Chhetri remarked.

“And then rub our shoulders with the best in Asia. So, for the country’s sake first, yes. And once we do that, it will be good to think back and remember that my last game was an important one. And I could contribute to our nation being in the third round of the World Cup Qualifiers,” he signed off.