Indian football team captain Sunil Chhetri took to his Instagram handle on Thursday to thank the fans for their unwavering support throughout the tournament after India clinched the SAFF Championship 2023 title.

The Blue Tigers defended the SAFF Championship title in style as they beat Kuwait on penalties in the final, on Tuesday. With fans turning up at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in large numbers in all of India’s matches, Igor Stimac’s side ended the tournament unbeaten while securing their ninth SAFF Championship title.

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Speaking in an emotional video with the SAFF Championship trophy by his side, Chhetri extended his gratitude to supporters of the national team and the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) fan clubs who travelled to Bangalore to cheer the team.

“Bangalore, you guys were special man. Generally, I say this all the time and sometimes I’m biased, but Pritam (Kotal) da, Subashish (Bose), Rahul Bheke, Anirudh Thapa, Nikhil Poojary, Anwar (Ali), Akash (Mishra), they all came and they all spoke to me about this, that they felt something different this time in Bangalore. You guys were outstanding,” Chhetri stated.

The striker also mentioned how India’s victories over Lebanon and Kuwait in the semi-finals and finals respectively would not have been possible without the support of the home crowd. Prior to their 2-0 win over Lebanon in the Hero Intercontinental Cup final earlier in June, the Blue Tigers had beaten the side from the Middle East just once in 46 years. Meanwhile, the last time India faced Kuwait in 2010, the scoreline ended with a humbling 9-1 defeat for the Blue Tigers.

“The West Block (Blues). The East upper and lower, the North Stand, and even the South Stand. Special mention to the travelling Manjapadda, the Mariners, the Northeast (Highlander) Brigade, the East Bengal Ultras, and a few of them I’m unable to recall right now, but all of you coming together and supporting us the way you did, was amazing. And let me tell you a small secret, the games against Lebanon and Kuwait weren’t easy and if you weren’t there, we wouldn’t have got this (points to the trophy),” he stated.

“I’m just telling you facts. I’m not trying to praise you, I'm not trying to be modest. I’m just telling you a fact. If you guys weren’t there and if not for the way you guys came and supported us, this wouldn’t be there. Throughout this year, right from when we played (the Tri-Nation Friendly Tournament) at Manipur with the national team to (the Hero Intercontinental Cup in) Odisha and now in Bangalore, the whole nation, everywhere we went, you guys were special,” Chhetri further said.

India are slated to participate in the King’s Cup (Thailand) and the Merdeka Cup (Malaysia) in September and October respectively, later this year. Having gone unbeaten in 11 games on home soil in 2023, while winning seven of them, Stimac’s side won’t have it easy. However, Chhetri made it clear that his team will continue to fight regardless of the venue or opposition.

“I hope you understand how important you guys are. We are going to win some games and then we are going to lose some, but just to know that we are all in this together gives us a lot of hope. And one thing I can tell you about this team is (that) we fight,” he claimed.

“No matter what, we fight. No matter where we are playing, we fight. And no matter who we are playing with, we fight. We always do that. So, this is me, on behalf of the whole team telling you guys, the whole of Bangalore, and the supporters from different clubs, thank you so much. And I know where we have to reach is far and it is going to be difficult, but we will enjoy it together,” he concluded.