Sunil Chhetri ‘emotional’ ahead of 100th international cap for Indian football team
India’s all-time leading goal-scorer Sunil Chhetri will earn his 100th cap when he leads the team against Kenya in their second game of the Intercontinental Cup at the Mumbai Football Arena on Monday.
Chhetri, who is set to become only the second player to reach the 100-game mark after Bhaichung Bhutia (104), admitted that it was a conversation with his mother which finally made him realise the enormity of the occasion – something he had “never even dreamt of”.
“I had a dream but never dreamt of playing 100 International matches. This is unbelievable, “said Chhetri. “Honestly, I never think much about milestones. It was only when I was having a chat with my mom the other night that she became a bit emotional. How big it was for her made me realise how big the occasion is.”
“I need to thank my parents, friends, family, all my coaches, players, fans, media for their support in my journey in being able to be the second person in history play 100 International matches for my country. It feels special,” he added. “I just feel I will be able to keep my emotions under control, play the game as we should, stick to the plan and try to win the game for the country,” he added.
Joyfully remembering his debut against Pakistan in a friendly in 2005 he said: “I still remember my first match for India. We were in Pakistan and Nabi-da (Syed Rahim Nabi) and me 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.”
The 33-year-old also spoke about his evolution as a player and how ‘filtering’ unnecessary elements and things -- though ‘monotonous’ -- became important to his success.
“Once you grow older and you play more, you understand what’s not good for you rather than what works for you. As you grow older you tend to start filtering stuff which is not needed and which is not important for you. That’s what is learnt. So I do the things which works for me. It’s monotonous but I hope it continues,” Chhetri revealed.
Talking about the team’s togetherness and his role as a leader and mentor, he said: “The desire in the present squad makes it special. The camaraderie is great and there is not a single ego clash within. There’s an ardent desire to improve and its really good to lead this bunch of players. We have the desire and the talent. We need to keep working hard.”
“I always try to be a good example. I have understood that lectures don’t work. If I go up to Udanta (Singh) and say to him about the importance of being on time, the importance of hitting the gym, maybe he will not take me seriously. Instead, I try to do it for myself so that the boys can follow. That’s so satisfying,” Chhetri added.
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