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Still great at 38, Sunil Chhetri won't stop so soon!

Updated on: 23 June,2023 08:49 AM IST  |  Bangalore

At an age when players look to pursue less stressful options, India’s mercurial skipper Sunil Chhetri is soaring and scoring

Still great at 38, Sunil Chhetri won't stop so soon!

Sunil Chhetri after scoring a hat-trick against Pakistan on Wednesday. Pic/PTI

A huge banner tied across the West Block Blues Stand read: ‘Immortal No 11’. It was a heartfelt tribute to Sunil Chhetri by the fans, who cheered every move the Indian captain made on the field.

Some of them invaded the turf multiple times trying to get close to Chhetri even as he was leading India’s 4-0 buccaneering against Pakistan during the SAFF Championship match at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium.

Massive crowd-puller

What makes Chhetri a crowd-puller, then? He is 38, a stage when players generally think of pursuing less stressful options than playing football and follow rigid fitness plans. But his performance on the field still does not have any reflection of his age. 

Last Saturday, India conquered Lebanon, a team that stands higher on FIFA Rankings, 2-0 in the Intercontinental Cup final at Odisha, and it was Chhetri who put the team on the track to win with the first goal.

The situation was no different on a rain-blanched Wednesday at Bengaluru. Crowd that filled the stadium to the rafters did not want anything less than a win, and Chhetri could not have missed that vibe. 

Also Read: What makes captain Sunil Chhetri a force to be reckoned with?

The whole India v Pakistan narrative that has been running for decades now too might have fuelled Chhetri’s desire to own the grand stage. He had offered us a peek at that feeling inside of him. 

“Before the Pakistan match, whenever we met the boys, it was all hunky dory. Even when I was in Pakistan once or twice, we were all fine and friendly. They speak Punjabi and we speak Punjabi, the moment the whistle blows I don’t know what happens,” Chettri had said in an ISL video.

“It’s by default, just the sense of anyone but them. Maybe it’s ingrained in our upbringing as Indians and I’m pretty sure they will say the same thing. The hostility, the fact that we don’t want to lose against them comes in,” he added.

Chhetri is an apex predator with a natural sense for the goal. 90 goals from 138 matches for India will vouch for that, and the striker is now 4th on the all time highest international goalscorer list behind Cristiano Ronaldo (123), Ali Daei (109) and Lionel Messi (103).

Cheetah-like moves

That instinct was on full view when he scored the first goal against Pakistan last night. Pakistan player Abullah Iqbal pushed the ball back to goalkeeper Saqib Hanif and Chhetri followed that pass like a cheetah hunting a deer in those Kruger videos.

Thirty eight became a mere number for Chhetri at that moment and for many of us too who still adore a 20-something man who made his India debut against the same opponent in Quetta. 

Perturbed by Chhetri’s burst towards him, Hanif erred in clearing the ball and the Indian needed no second invitation to capitalise on the chance gifted to him. The two ensuing penalty kicks might have been a canter for someone with Chhetri’s skills.

No. of goals India skipper Sunil Chhetri has scored in 138 matches

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