The record speaks for itself --- 51 goals from 91 matches, when we look at India captain Sunil Chhetri’s international career.
With a conversion rate better than Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi’s, the 32-year old striker has already immortalised himself as one of the best players of his country, and on Wednesday, he scored two brilliant goals for Bengaluru FC to add another first to his illustrious career.
An opponent like defending champions Johor Darul Ta’zim in the semifinals of the AFC Cup are never an easy proposition and it was clear within 11 minutes of the game when the Malaysian team took the lead. But that turned out to be a minor setback for the I-League champions as Bengaluru FC marshalled on in search of victory and it was their skipper who emerged the saviour.
The equaliser came in the 40th minute when Eugeneson Lyngdoh’s delivery saw Chhetri jump the highest and his flicked header went into the far corner. Chhetri quickly followed it up with another brilliant strike in the 60th minute when he received a measured pass from CK Vineeth and his right-footed shot proved too strong for the Johor keeper, as it found the back of the near post.
The two goals proved to be the turning point of the match as Bengaluru FC won 3-1 and became the first Indian club to qualify for the AFC Cup finals.
Talking about Chhetri’s performance, Bengaluru FC midfielder Eugeneson Lyngdoh told HT, “It was a special performance by the skipper. He scored two crucial goals and that was exactly what we needed.”
Chhetri has been part of the Bengaluru team since its inception in 2013 and in these three years has become a legend for the club’s supporters. The India captain has been a prolific scorer for the side and his leadership is one of the major reasons behind the team’s immense success in the domestic league and on the continental stage. However, his humility was yet again on display when he spoke to the press after his team’s historic win on Wednesday.
“Before the match, there had been a lot of talk about no Indian club had made it into the finals. But there has been no such talk in our team. We treated this match as any other match,” he told reporters.
On a night where the big occasion needed a big name to shine, Chhetri was there to save the day for Bengaluru FC and he showed yet again why he is considered to be one of the best Indian footballers of all time. From his piercing runs down the flanks to the sheer determination to connect with every set-piece delivery, it was surely a performance worthy of the history-defining night.
In the end, the 32-year old’s genius could be aptly described in the words of his teammate Shankar Sampingiraj, “The skipper is getting younger day by day!”