Sunil Chhetri: Indian football’s poster boy

Indian skipper Sunil Chhetri scored a hat-trick to help India hammer an inexperienced Chinese Taipei 5-0 in the opening game of the four-nation Hero Intercontinental Cup 2018.

Sunil Chhetri in action against the Chinese Taipei at the Hero Intercontinental Cup on Friday.   -  Prashant Nakwe

It had been quite some time since the dynamic Sunil Chhetri last scored a hat-trick in the national colours — the last being at the Balewadi Sports Complex against Vietnam eight years ago. The hat-trick drought ended on Friday, as India hammered an inexperienced Chinese Taipei 5-0 in the opening game of the four-nation Intercontinental Cup at the Mumbai Football Arena.

Chhetri, leading from the front, subsequently jumped to the third spot on the list of active international goalscorers joining Spanish striker David Villa with 59 goals to his name. Only Cristiano Ronaldo (81 goals) and Lionel Messi (64 goals) lie ahead of the Indian skipper.

Read: Chhetri hat-trick propels India to 5-0 win over Chinese Taipei

Chhetri is also one short of playing his 100th game on June 4 against Kenya.

Beginning his career with Mohun Bagan in 2002, Chhetri has come a long way. He left Mohun Bagan for Jagatjit Cotton & Textile Football Club, commonly abbreviated as JCT FC in 2005. With JCT he had a tally of 21 goals in a total of 48 appearances.

Later, he became just the third player from the subcontinent to go abroad when he signed for the Kansas City Wizards of Major League Soccer in 2010. That stint was however shortlived and he was back in the I-League where he played for Chirag United and then again Mohun Bagan before an international club stint beckoned.

Chhetri plied his trade for the reserve side of Sporting Clube de Portugal of the Primeira Liga.

Also read: Everything clicked for us against Chinese Taipei, says Constantine

As the Indian skipper he has helped the team bag the Nehru Cup on three occasions — in 2007, 2009 and 2012 and the 2011 SAFF Championship as well. He contributed hugely to India’s qualification to the first AFC Asian Cup in 27 years by guiding to a title triumph in the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup.

Adding a feather to his cap, Chhetri has also been named the AIFF Player of the Year four times in 2007, 2011, 2013 and 2014.