Sunil Chhetri: Never imagined I will score as many goals

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NEW DELHI:  The Indian football team kicked off their SAFF Championship title defence with a 4-0 victory over Pakistan in Group A on Wednesday at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru.

Sunil Chhetri netted an early brace before adding another after the break for his fourth international hat-trick, thereby taking his tally to 90 goals and leaving Mokhtar Dahari of Malaysia behind who has 89 international goals to his name. Now, Chhetri is just 10 goals short of 100 international goals and behind Lionel Messi (103 goals), Iran’s Ali Daei (109 goals) and Cristiano Ronaldo (123 goals) in the list of most international goals. But the Indian football captain does not think about goals and records.

“No, I am not. And I don’t ever think of numbers. What I can tell you, however, is that as long as I play I will give it my absolute all for the national team. When I first got selected to play for India I did not imagine I will be captain one day. Never did I imagine I will score as many goals or play 100 games. All of this was beyond my imagination. I am immensely proud and fortunate that I have got this opportunity. And I have said this to everyone in the change room that I want to be the last in the team in terms of fitness and stamina- the day that happens imagine what kind of a team we will have. And for that to happen each one has to push himself for I will do everything I can to stay ahead of the younger ones. They need to step up and beat me and that’s how we will improve as a team,” said India football skipper Sunil Chhetri on Backstage with Boria.

Less than 72 hours after a high-octane final victory over Lebanon in the Intercontinental Cup in Bhubaneswar, India were off to a lightning-quick start in Bengaluru.

“Yes, it was a very significant win for us. Let me tell you a backstory, which will help contextualise the significance of the win better. For a number of us this tournament came at the end of a very long season and fortunately or unfortunately, we did not get a break. So when we all met for our first practice session we were a touch tired. And in Odisha, the conditions weren’t great either. It was very hot and humid.

If we keep all of these things in mind, the win against a side like Lebanon was most satisfying,” said Sunil Chhetri.

Chhetri broke the deadlock in a tense Intercontinental Cup final against Lebanon with his strike and after that, there was no stopping the Indian wave as Lallianzuala Chhangte made it 2-0.

“This is the biggest positive for me. I can’t tell you how pleased I am to see these guys step up. Some years back two young men, Gurpreet Sandhu and Sandesh Jhingan, came to the change room and we started following a culture which I had started- a culture that had discipline at its core. We followed a very strict regime and every little thing was monitored. Now both of these superstars have taken the lead in the change room. And every youngster has started to follow the template. That’s why you will see we don’t get tired, we are physically as fit as any other team and the young players like Chhangte will only get better in future. He is someone we are all fond of and it is a rare quality Boria da to see someone who you like both as a player and as a human being. Chhangte is one such who is liked universally by all in the team both as a player and person. Mahesh, Chhangte and each one of the young mean have now imbibed the culture and will take the sport ahead in the country,” said Sunil Chhetri.

India are top of the Group A standings on goal difference after matchday-1 of the SAFF Championship. India will now take on Nepal in their second Group A match on Saturday. (ANI)

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