On this day: Sunil Chhetri plays his 100th international match

Sandesh Jhigan revisits the momentous occasion - an Intercontinental Cup contest against Kenya in Mumbai in 2018.

Bhaichung Bhutia (left) and I. M. Vijayan (right) felicitate Sunil Chhetri ahead of the India-Kenya contest on June 4, 2018. - PRASHANT NAKWE

Two years ago, on this day, Sunil Chhetri played his 100th international match for India, in the Intercontinental Cup. It was a memorable night at the Mumbai Football Arena as Chhetri, cheered on by passionate fans, scored twice in a 3-0 win over Kenya.

In the lead-up to that game, Chhetri had asked India’s football fans to turn up and support the national team. In a conversation with AIFF, Sandesh Jhingan, who played for India that day, recalled the electric atmosphere that greeted the team.

'Magic'

“Generally, I always try to stay calm before a match no matter how big the game is. But Sunil bhai’s message weaved magic amongst the fans and the craze for tickets in Mumbai was unheard of. It seemed the entire Mumbai city thronged the stadium that day,” Jhingan said.

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“Sunil bhai’s message, the rain and fans turning up to the stadium – all combined to make it an unbelievable scene. To play in front of such a vocal crowd where your every move is being cheered at was a huge experience,” he added.

Chhetri was given a guard of honour by his team-mates for having achieved his landmark. Spectators had put up banners in his support. “He fully deserved it,”  Jhingan said.

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“What he did for the nation for 10-15 years can’t be justified by the guard of honour. He will always be remembered by his achievements and contributions to Indian football over the years. He’s someone who has firmly booked his place in the history book. This gesture was a small tribute to highlight his glories over the years. Of course, it was a great feeling to be part of it.”

'Fantastic goals'

Chhetri’s first goal was a penalty kick in the 68 minute after a foul by Kenya in the penalty box; it gave India a 1-0 lead. His second goal was in the 92nd minute; in a counter-attack, he raced ahead to take advantage of an unguarded Kenyan defence, and at the opportune moment, coolly chipped the ball over the goalkeeper’s head to give India the third goal.

“The fantastic goals, especially the dink one truly showed how cool he is in front of the goal. We left the ground with a clean sheet too which showed how clinical we were at the rear as well. Kenya were extremely tough opponents with deadly speed, strength and combined force - just like any other African team,” Jhingan said.

The victory was the icing on the cake. Many Indian celebrities provided words of support and encouragement, too, to make it an unforgettable occasion.

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