Indian football Team

The Indian football team defeated Kuwait on penalties on Tuesday to win its eighth South Asian Football Federation Championship (SAFF) championship. Sunil Chhetri, the captain of the Indian football team, stood at the epicentre of the victory. Indian football team For almost two decades, he has devoted his time to Indian football, motivating a whole generation of players. Gautam Bhattacharyya, a sports writer, chronicles the player’s illustrious career.

Does their nation actually play football? is a common question that the diverse group of Indian football reporters who travel to cover the Fifa World Cup encounter.

There is no surprise in the element of surprise. India hasn’t been able to shake the impression that it is a cricket-obsessed country, despite the fact that it is known as a significant market for football tourists.

But Sunil Chhetri, the veteran Indian captain, stood out in this situation.

Indian team
Indian team
Indian flag in stadium field with soccer football
Indian flag in stadium field with soccer football

The 38-year-old goal machine, who helped his nation win the SAFF Championship and small  Intercontinental Cup during the last three weeks, is presently the third-highest active footballer in terms of goals scored for an international team. The top two scorers are Cristiano Ronaldo (123 goals from 200 appearances) and Lionel Messi (103 from 175). He has 93 goals in 142 games. In terms of all-time rankings, Chhetri is fourth, trailing only Iranian superstar Ali Daei, who has 109 goals across 148 games.

His story is made even more remarkable by the fact that the list of the top 10 footballers of all time is filled with legends from nations with a strong football history, including Ferenc Puskas of Hungary in sixth place with 84 goals and Robert Lewandowski of Poland in eighth place with 79 goals.

Compare that to the reputation of the nation Chhetri is from in terms of football. India’s last podium finish in a major competition was a bronze medal at the Asian Games in 1970, more than 50 years ago, and for as long as anybody can remember, their Fifa rating has been somewhere around the 100-mark.


The national squad, known as the Blue Tigers, did well for themselves by qualifying for two consecutive Asian Cup finals, but an Asian qualifying spot for the World Cup has remained a pipe dream.

Chhetri thrives in this environment and does it with a great deal of pride in his shirt.

His accomplishments have not gone unnoticed altogether, as Fifa last year released a documentary on him called Captain Fantastic, which is accessible on the Fifa+ channel.

getters’ race featuring the game’s two superheroes, Messi and Ronaldo.

Indian flag in stadium field with soccer football

To put things in perspective, Chhetri quotes Bob Houghton, a reputable British coach under whom he started his career while wearing Indian colours: “You cannot have the skills of Ronaldo or score goals like him, but nobody can stop you from working hard as him.”

Those are admirable comments, but how can he continue to score goals at an excellent rate for a nation whose primary participation is in minor competitions like the SAFF Championship, Intercontinental Cup, Asian Cup qualifiers, Asian Cup finals, and friendlies?

Since Chhetri’s entry into the scene, the Asian Games have remained off-limits, and the Nehru Cup, an invitational competition where he has nine goals, has also been abandoned.

Nearly 25% of his goals thus far (24 total) have come from the SAFF Championship, which India won against Kuwait in Bengaluru on Tuesday following a shootout.

18 of these were scored in friendlies, 13 in the Intercontinental Cup, 9 in each of the Nehru Cup and Fifa World Cup qualifiers, and the remaining two in AFC competitions and the King’s Cup.

He has so far scored four hat-tricks, one of which came at SAFF against Pakistan. Yes, there could be the occasional snicker at the calibre of some of the opposition, but international football is a serious business.

Sunil Chhetri
Sunil Chhetri

Chhetri deserves a lot of respect for continuing to be the Blue Tigers’ go-to goal scorer after all these years and for maintaining his desire to do so. The SAFF Championship, which just ended, is evidence of it.

He scored six goals overall, including a hat-trick against Pakistan in their opening match, a strike rate that demonstrates incredible focus and consistency. But it also begs the question, “Who comes after Chhetri?”

It should come as no surprise that Chhetri’s success is largely due to his perseverance in international football and his strong work ethic.

Take the 2022–23 season as an example; it was his 18th year competing internationally and 21st year competing in clubs. Chhetri received his first international call-up in June of 2005, the same year as Messi and two years after the legendary Ronaldo.

Last year, during India’s Asian Cup qualifying matches in Kolkata, Chhetri and I had an open discussion about what motivates him. He said: “In the end, it’s all about making the little sacrifices,”

“It all depends on what I eat and how much sleep I get. For the type of good life I have by God’s grace, choosing broccoli over biryani is not a huge concern since I know I will have time for such indulgence after the game is over. There were numerous players who began playing around the same time as me and were on par with me or even better. But they were unable to keep up with the game’s physical demands, he claimed.

This helped him stay energised for the demands of his country’s service. He no longer operated at the same rate, preferring instead to linger nearby before bursting into crucial, brief bursts of speed to reach the ball when it counted the most.

Chhetri remarked that it was “evidence of the progress we have made and a big step forward” when asked about India’s chances in the Asian Cup in Doha in January, where they had been drawn alongside World Cup regulars Australia, Uzbekistan, and Syria. In the context of where we aspire to go, it is also a modest step. Top Asian teams like Japan, Iran, and Saudi Arabia constantly desire to play against better and more highly ranked opposition. That is how you get better. We will compete against better ranked teams at the Asian Cup. At that point, you may assess your development and how much your team has advanced.

But as of right now, nobody, not even the team’s Croatian coach Igor Stimac, knows who will replace Chhetri.

The fans don’t either.

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