Sunil Chhetri equalled Bhaichung Bhutia to record the joint-most appearances for India in international football as India stepped up against Bahrain at the Al-Sharjah Stadium for their final Group A match of the AFC Asian Cup on Monday. With 107 appearances, Chhetri equalled his mentor Bhutia, who had played for India for the same number of matches.
Chhetri, who made his debut 14 years ago in 2005, is India’s all-time leading goalscorer with 67 goals to his name. Among the active footballers in the world, Chhetri is ranked second on the list of the top scorers, behind only Cristiano Ronaldo.
With his two goals in the first match at the Asian Cup vs Thailand, Chhetri surpassed Messi’s record as the second highest active international goal scorer with the India striker having 67 goals while Messi has 65.
Chhetri had overtaken Bhutia as the highest goal scorer for India back in November of 2013, and the former congratulated Chhetri with a hug after the match.
As for the match, eight years back on January 14, 2011 in the AFC Asian Cup, India had gone down fighting against Bahrain 2-5.
Eight years on, India gear up to take on Bahrain on the same day — where a victory will ensure Chhetri and the boys a qualification into the Round of 16.
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Chhetri had scored India’s second goal in that match eight years back and will aim to put his name on the scorer list once again against Bahrain on Monday.
Ahead of the match though, Chhetri was focused more on an Indian win rather than him scorring goals.
“It doesn’t matter who scores as long as we score. It’s a team game,” he quipped. “The awareness and interest in football has certainly grown in India. Everyone who is associated with football is responsible for it. But I also want to say that it’s a very small jump which we have taken. We have to keep our heads down and keep working hard,” said Chhetri, a day prior to the Bahrain clash.
“It was an extremely difficult group back then,” he recalled. “We had Australia, South Korea and Bahrain in the group. The only positive, apart from the fact that we played our hearts out was that we scored three goals.”
While India stand on the cusp of qualification, Sunil Chhetri summed the situation perfectly: “We haven’t achieved anything substantial yet. What I want to achieve is to reach the top 10 in Asia and rub shoulders with the best. For that, we have to improve a lot. The first step starts with a result against Bahrain tomorrow.”
Apart from the second-placed finish back in 1964, this is arguably one of the most memorable moments in India’s AFC Asian Cup appearances.