Sunil Chhetri, Khel Ratna awardee and a perennial match-winner for club and country

Indian men’s football team and Bengaluru FC captain Sunil Chhetri on Saturday became the first Indian footballer to be conferred with the prestigious Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna Award.

Since 2002 to 2021, the Indian forward has been an indispensable resource for any team he’s played for and made an impact at every tournament he’s featured in.

The Hero Indian Super League (ISL) too has been a playground for his magic since 2015 and the Chhetri juggernaut is showing no signs of stopping six years later.

As the legend of Indian football adds another well-deserved accolade to his name, here’s a throwback to some of Chhetri’s best and most vital performances for club and country.

Chhetri’s first international hat-trick sends India to the Asian Cup

It was 2008 and Chhetri was considered the potential heir to Bhaichung Bhutia. The Indian forward, just 24 at the time, came of age on an evening when India created history. Chhetri struck in the 9th, 23rd and 75th minute to register his first international hat-trick in the final of the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup against Tajikistan and help India qualify for the AFC Asian Cup after 27 years.

Chhetri becomes first Indian to score a Hero ISL hat-trick

Playing for Mumbai City FC in his first Hero ISL campaign in 2015, Chhetri showed his class by netting the first-ever hat-trick by an Indian in the competition. Up against NorthEast United, the forward scored in the 25th  40th and the 48th minute to complete his hat-trick and send Mumbai City FC on their way to an impressive 5-1 victory.

Chhetri helps Bengaluru FC script history in Asia

One of the Bengaluru FC captain’s most iconic performances came during the club’s historic run to the 2016 AFC Cup final. Trailing 2-1 on aggregate in the two-legged semi-final tie against Malaysia’s Johor Darul Ta'zim, Bengaluru FC found a hero in Chhetri who scored in 41st and 67th minute to turn the aggregate score in Bengaluru’s favour and power them to a 3-1 win on the night that made the Blues the first Indian club to reach the AFC Cup final.

From defence to attack, Chhetri lifts India against Kyrgyzstan

One of Chhetri’s best and most crucial goals for India came during an AFC Asian Cup qualifying match at Bengaluru FC’s Sree Kanteerava Stadium against Kyrgyzstan who had dominated the game until the 69th minute when Chhetri having collected the ball at the edge of India’s penalty area, dribbled the length of the field going past multiple Kyrgyzstan players before finishing off the move himself after a clever assist from Jeje Lalpekhlua. That goal in a 1-0 win was crucial in helping India qualify for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup.

Chhetri hat-trick fires Bengaluru FC into first-ever Hero ISL final

After a goalless semi-final first leg against FC Pune City in the 2017-18 Hero ISL season, the onus was on Bengaluru FC to win the second leg outright given they had no away goals. Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Chhetri rose to the occasion and scored a terrific hat-trick to ensure Bengaluru FC progress to the final in their very first season despite conceding an away goal in the second leg.

Chhetri leads from the front as India make perfect start at Asian Cup

In what was the biggest match for India in the significant recent past, Chhetri brought his A game to the fore as India beat Thailand in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup opener. He started the scoring from the penalty spot before giving India the lead again in the game just after the restart in the second half. His brace set India on the way to their first-ever win in the AFC Asian Cup finals in 55 years.

Chhetri marks milestone match in style

The Bengaluru FC captain was making his 200th appearance for the club and the need for the team to step up was at its peak as the Blues faced a near must-win encounter against Mumbai City FC in bid to qualify for the semi-finals. Chhetri was the difference-maker again as he scored twice in a six-goal thriller. His second goal that saw him run the length of the field in the dying minutes of the game, displaying his immaculate fitness levels and hunger to succeed.

Chhetri has been a match-winner for club and country on numerous occasions and his consistency in big games means he is a saviour that Indian football can almost take for granted.

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