At 33 years, India’s all-time leading goal scorer and captain Sunil Chhetri equaled Lionel Messi’s number of international goals (64) during the Intercontinental Cup final against Kenya in Mumbai.
He became the the joint second-highest international goal scorer among active players. The footballer scored two goals in India’s 2-0 victory in the summit clash.
Chhetri had become the second Indian after former captain Bhaichung Bhutia (104) to have 100 caps, when he played the group match against Kenya on 4 June.
From starting his pro career with Mohun Bagan to leading the Indian football team, here’s a look at highlights from Sunil Chhetri’s career.
2002: Entering the Big Leagues
After playing for an amateur team – youth club City FC in Delhi – Chhetri started his professional career at the age of 17 when he signed a contract with India’s top club Mohun Bagan in 2002.
2005: India Debut
Chhetri first got to don the India blues in 2005, when he was picked to play against Pakistan in a friendly match, in Pakistan. And the 20-year-old footballer scored his maiden international goal to give his team the lead. Though Pakistan managed to level the score with a goal in the 80th minute, Chhetri still fondly remembers the match.
I still remember my first match for India. We were in Pakistan and Nabi-da (Syed Rahim Nabi) and I were the rookies. We were kind of chilling knowing that we may not be fielded. But Sukhi-sir (Sukhwinder Singh) made both of us start the game. I scored a goal and all in euphoria I ran to the Pakistani fans and started to celebrate.Sunil Chhetri
2007, 2009, 2012: Nehru Cup Hat-trick
Sunil Chhetri had starred in India’s journey to their maiden Nehru Cup trophy in 2007. In his first major international tournament, he scored an impressive four goals in five matches. Later that year, 22-year-old Chhetri was named AIFF’s Player of the Year for the first time.
Chhetri was also a part of the winning side in 2009. And in 2012, he scored in the final against Cameroon which was tied 2-2 at full-time. The captain also scored one of the five penalties as India won their third-straight Nehru Cup title.
2008: Hat-trick in AFC Challenge Cup Final
A hat-trick in the final against Tajikistan, and Sunil Chhetri had not only helped India win their maiden AFC Challenge Cup in 2008, but also helped the team secure qualification for their first AFC Asian Cup in 27 years.
2010-11: Kansas City Wizards Signing
Sunil Chhetri was signed by Kansas City Wizards – a team part of the Major League Soccer – for the 2010-11 season, becoming only the second Indian footballer of post-Independence era to join a professional league side abroad.
2011: AFC Asian Cup
India failed to make it past the group stages at the 2011 AFC Asian Cup after losing to Australia 0-4, Bahrain 2-5 and South Korea 1-4. But the tournament still holds importance in Chhetri’s career, for the mere “experience”.
It’s like a World Cup for Asian teams. To qualify there, and going there and rubbing shoulders with the best was a great experience. I find it hard to choose just one game, and getting a couple of goals there meant a huge thing for me personally.Sunil Chhetri to ESPN
2011: Arjuna Awardee
Chhetri was conferred with the Arjuna Award in 2011, which he dedicated to his family.
2013: I-League Title in Bengaluru FC’s Debut Season
After being released from Sporting Clube de Portugal, Chhetri led Bengaluru FC to their first I-League title in its debut season in 2013. He had 14 goals and 7 assists from his 23 games.
This year also saw Chhetri topple Bhaichung Bhutia and become India’s top scorer with 43 goals.
2015: 50-Goal Mark
Chhetri became the first Indian footballer to score 50 international goals during his team’s 2018 World Cup qualifying match against Guam in June 2015. India however went on to lose the match 1-2, and also failed to qualify for the coveted quadrennial tournament.
2016: Leading Bengaluru FC to Historic AFC Cup Final
Chhetri led Bengaluru FC to a historic AFC Cup final by scripting an inspiring 3-1 win over defending champions Johor Darul Ta'zim with a stunning brace.
Bengaluru made it to the final by virtue of superior aggregate goal difference of 4-2. The first leg in Malaysia ended in a 1-1 draw.
2017: Qualifying for 2019 Asian Cup
Chhetri’s goal in the 69th minute helped India beat Kyrgzstan 1-0, qualify for the 2019 Asian Cup and break into the top 100 of FIFA rankings .
2018: 100 Caps Mark
Skipper Sunil Chhetri on 4 June, played his 100th international game, making it a memorable one with a double strike, as India recorded a comprehensive 3-0 victory over Kenya to enter the final of the Intercontinental Cup football tournament in Mumbai.
Just two days before his landmark game, Chhetri had appealed to soccer fans across the country, to support the Indian football team. And the result? A packed Mumbai Football Arena, cheering for their captain and the Blue Tigers.