For over a decade now, Sunil Chhetri has been as the face of Indian football team. From becoming the longest-serving player to scoring the most goals for the side, he has set records galore.

When Chhetri first burst on the scene in 2005 as a 20-year-old, many tipped him to become the ‘next Bhaichung Bhutia’ but the Secunderabad-born striker has gone on to carve out a legacy of his own, cementing his place as arguably the greatest-ever goalscorer and footballer the country has ever seen. And it is his incredible international career statistics that show why.

Having previously played and scored for the U-20 team, Chhetri made his senior team debut in a friendly game against Pakistan in Quetta, getting his first start in place of injured Bhutia. He started with a bang, scoring the solitary goal in the match that India drew 1-1.

He hasn’t looked back since then, going on to become India’s highest goal-scorer and most-capped player – surpassing Bhutia, who previously claimed both records.

Chhetri's career at a glance

Matches 115
Goals 72
Hat-tricks Three (against Tajikistan, Vietnam and Chinese Taipei)
First match Against Pakistan in Quetta on 12th June, 2005
Last match Against Oman in Muscat on 19th November, 2019*

A colossal figure

Chhetri added another feather to his illustrious cap last year when he became India’s most capped international player. He surpassed Bhutia’s record of 107 games at the King’s Cup opener against Curacao last year.

Alongside being the country’s longest-serving player, Chhetri is the only footballer after Bhutia to register more than 100 caps for the national team. IM Vijayan, regarded as one of India’s finest ever-goalscorers, ranks third with 88 caps to his name.

Meanwhile, goalkeeper Subrata Pal, with 76 caps, is the only active Indian footballer behind Chhetri in the top 10 list of players who have made the most appearances.

Most appearances for India

Name Appearances Career span
Sunil Chhetri 115 2005-present
Bhaichung Bhutia 107 1995-2011
IM Vijayan 88 1991-2003
Shabbir Ali 81 1974-1984
Mahesh Gawli 79 1999-2011
Gouramangi Singh 73 2006-'13
Climax Lawrence 72 2003-'11
Subrata Pal 67 2007-present
Renedy Singh 65 1999-2011
Deepak Mondal 58 1999-2011

Chhetri became India’s highest scorer in 2013 when he netted the opener during a friendly match against Nepal which they won by 2-0. He achieved the landmark in just his 80th international appearance.

Comapared to others who have racked up the most goals for India, the Bengaluru FC striker boast the best goals per game ratio of 0.63%.

Out of the 115 appearances made by Chhetri, 51 have resulted in wins.

Top five highest goalscorers for India

Name Goals Appearances
Sunil Chhetri 72 115
Bhaichung Bhutia 42
IM Vijayan 39 88
Shabbir Ali 30 81
Jeje Lalpekhlua 23 56

Chhetri has become one of the most consistent goalscorers for India over the years. 2006 is the only year where he failed to find the net, making just one appearance.

Chhetri’s most successful goal-scoring campaign in national colours came back in 2011, when he tallied double figures, scoring 13 goals. Seven of them came during the 2011 SAFF Cup as India lifted the title for a record sixth time.

For a player who has gone on to defy age, Chhetri has continued to bang in the goals, year after year.

Chhetri's international career by the years

Year Appearances Goals
2005 5 1
2006 1 0
2007 7 6
2008 13 8
2009 6 1
2010 6 3
2011 17 13
2012 8 4
2013 11 5
2014 2 3
2015 12 6
2016 4 2
2017 6 5
2018 6 8
2019 11 7
Total  115 72

It is no surprise that most of Chhetri’s goals have come in friendlies as India have played more games of that category when he was part of the team. The 35-year-old remains India’s top goalscorer at the AFC Asian Cup and in their Fifa World Cup qualifying campaign.

He’s scored few crucial goals, too. His first international hat-trick was scored at the 2008 AFC Asian Cup final against Tajikistan, guiding them to their first title at the tournament alongside helping India secure a place 2011 AFC Asian Cup, after a hiatus of 27 years. Although India had a forgettable outing at the event, losing all three of their matches, Chhetri scored twice.

India had to wait for eight more years to qualify for the AFC Asian Cup again. Chhetri steered India to their first win at the tournament in 54 years by scoring a brace against Thailand in their opener, whom they beat by 4-1.

Goals scored by Chhetri in tournaments

Competition Goals
Friendlies 27
SAFF Cup 13
Nehru Cup 9
Fifa World Cup qualifiers 7
AFC Asian Cup qualifiers 4
AFC Challenge Cup 4
AFC Asian Cup 4
AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers 3
King's Cup 1

Up there with the best

Given his prolific goal-scoring record for India, Chhetri finds his name up among the best in international football – trailing only Cristiano Ronaldo in the list of most internationals goals scored by active players.

Many will question the quality of opposition and the significance of these games where Chhetri scored but leaving these parameters behind, Chettri’s statistics are truly impressive.

Chhetri ranks 10th in the list of all-time international goalscorers with Iranian Ali Daei topping the charts, having scored 109 goals in 147 appearances. The Indian striker is fifth among Asians and only Japanese Kunishige Kamamoto, Iraq’s Hussain Saeed, Kuwait’s Bashar Abdullah, Malaysia’s Zainal Abidin Hassan are ahead of him.

Highest active goalscorers in football history

Name Games Goals
Cristiano Ronaldo  164 99
Sunil Chhetri 115 72
Lionel Messi 138 70
Neymar Jr 101 61
Robert Lewandowski 112 61
Ali Mabkhout 83 60
Luis Suarez 113 59
Edin Dzeko 107 58
Bader Al-Mutawa 178 56
Ali Ashfaq 80 53
Romelu Lukaku 84 52

(Stats courtesy: AIFF)