Sunil Chhetri reached a landmark century of appearances for the Indian football team against Kenya, as his brace against the Africans helped the home team to a 3-0 win at the Mumbai Football Arena on Monday.
For the Indian skipper, those were his 60th and 61st official goals for the Blue Tigers, making him the highest Indian goal-scorer by some margin. Bhaichung Bhutia is next with 40 goals in 104 appearances, but this list also includes eight goals in 13 unofficial Fifa matches, making Chhetri the first Indian to complete a ton of official national team appearances in Fifa-sanctioned matches.
Goals and more
As expected, the bulk of Chhetri’s goals have come in friendlies, primarily due to the fact that the majority of games that India have played during his stint in the national side have been of that category.
The 33-year-old’s first goal came on debut against Pakistan in 2005 in Quetta; the game ended as a 1-1 draw. Since then, 10 more goals have come away from home. Unsurprisingly, 44 of the Bengaluru striker’s 61 goals have come in wins, seven in losses and the rest in games which were drawn at the end of regulation time.
The World Cup qualifiers have brought six goals, and Chhetri’s contribution in losing causes at the 2011 Asian Cup amounted to two goals. The forward scored a goal apiece in India’s 1-4 defeat to South Korea and a 2-5 reverse to Bahrain in Doha in 2011.
Having qualified for the 2019 edition to be held in the United Arab Emirates, Chhetri can be expected to add to this tally further if India are to stand any chance of progressing from a group containing UAE, Bahrain and Thailand.
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Third-highest active international goalscorer
Ask Sunil Chhetri and he will tell you that he has seen but does not care about the memes and charts of him being the third-highest active international goalscorer, behind only Cristiano Ronaldo (81) and Lionel Messi (64).
The comparisons are perhaps a tad disingenuous, given the quality of the opponents that the top two have faced but there’s no doubting the fact that Chhetri has done extremely well against the rivals that the Indian national team has come up against.
Ali Daei, of Iran, leads the way for Asian goal-scorers with 109 goals in 147 appearances. Chhetri sits seventh on the all-time Asian list and 20th overall. Daei, Japan’s Kunishige Kamamoto (80 goals in 84 games), Iraq’s Hussain Saeed (78 in 137), Kuwait’s Bashar Abdullah (75 in 133), Saudi Arabia (71 in 116) and Thailand’s Kiatisuk Senamuang (71 in 134) are the only ones from the Asian region ahead of Chhetri.
Consistent over the years
There is no doubting his consistency over the years, as 2006 remains the only year in which Chhetri did not score a single goal for the national team, having played a solitary match in that year.
Between Bhutia’s retirement and Jeje Lalpekhlua’s rise (22 goals in 49 games), Chhetri has shouldered the burden of India’s goalscoring concerns as he has risen to the challenge, especially in the last few years.
His last 12 matches for the Blue Tigers have yielded 12 goals, and along with his most prolific club season ever, scoring 20 goals for Bengaluru FC across the Super Cup and the Indian Super League, the 33-year-old is experiencing a purple patch.
Yet, as the man himself says, scoring at the Asian Cup remains a priority. With the tournament approaching, this run of form augurs well for club and country.