AIFF Media Team
NEW DELHI: As the euphoria, excitement and sheer thrill of winning three back-to-back titles have settled down, India skipper Sunil Chhetri finally found time to sit down with the-aiff.com and take a trip down memory lane.
The owner of 92 international goals, Chhetri jogged his memory from the last 18 years to pick 10 of his most outstanding strikes.
Here, it is in his own words. The goals below are not in any particular order.
The goal against the Kyrgyz Republic in the Asian Cup qualifier in Bangalore. While I did score the goal, what I remember, was the pass by Jeje (Lalpekhlua). I can never forget it. Because there was no space and the ball could only have been passed exactly the way he did. There was no other way. And, I think, it was because of his combination and understanding with me, that the goal happened. It was an important goal because we needed the three points to stay firmly in the qualifying race.
(Editor’s note: The match was played on June 13, 2017, in the AFC Asian Cup 2019 qualifiers in Bengaluru. India won 1-0 to bag crucial three points)
The second goal I remember most is from the same Asian Cup qualifiers – I scored against Myanmar in Yangon. I don't know if many people recall that goal because the footage is not that great. But the role Udanta (Singh) played behind that goal was unforgettable. Never have I ever, in my 20-year career, seen somebody run the way he did. It was an unbelievable run by Udanta. I still picked this goal for myself, but it was just the icing on the cake. Udanta came as a substitute and produced that cross. I bust my lungs out to run and get the ball. Whenever I watch that goal, I feel so proud of him.
(The match was played on March 28, 2017, in the AFC Asian Cup qualifiers in Yangon. The last-minute strike by Sunil Chhetri helped India break a 64-year-old away match jinx as they pipped Myanmar by a solitary goal and collected three points)
The third one is against Oman at home and off a left-footer from outside the area. I remember it because of the technique on that goal. I scored that from outside the box. It was a neat finish.
(The World Cup qualifier was played on September 5, 2019, in Guwahati)
The next one was again a combination with Udanta (Singh) in the 2019 Asian Cup final rounds; my second goal against Thailand in that match. In the first half, we were locked 1-1. And in the second half, Udanta simply rode on his bike and he went past a couple of defenders, sent the ball in, and I finished from inside the box. That gave us a 2-1 lead, and then eventually we won 4-1. The full three points in the very first match were very important and satisfying.
(The match was played on January 7, 2019, in Asian Cup Group A in Abu Dhabi. India won 4-1, their first win in the final rounds since 1964)
This was a recent one, against Vanuatu in the Hero Intercontinental Cup. Again, the finish was good, so was Subhasish’s passing, but this goal will always stay with me because that's the day when my wife and I announced to the world that we are having a baby. The goal was important of course. But I think that goal will stay with me because of what it meant to both of us.
(The match was played on June 12, 2023, in the Hero Intercontinental Cup in Bhubaneswar)
The next goal that comes to my mind is the one against Kenya in the Hero Intercontinental in Mumbai. It was a goal that I scored with a chip. I am talking about this goal because of the sheer precision in the way I scored it. That’s not an easy skill to do. The goalkeeper came ahead and I had a defender behind me. Chipping the ball from that position was a rather difficult task. I keep watching it again and again. I'm really proud of myself for that goal.
(The match was played on June 4, 2018, in the Hero Intercontinental Cup against Kenya in Mumbai. India won 3-0)
The next goal is against Myanmar. I'm not sure whether many people remember it, but I do. That was one of my best goals and I scored it off a header on an extremely slushy pitch to take India to the AFC Challenge Cup 2008 final. And also, as we came back to the dressing room, our coach Bob Houghton told me that in his long years of football career, he hadn't seen a braver goal than that. That made me feel really happy and I felt so proud of my goal.
(The match was played on August 7, 2008, in Hyderabad, in the AFC Challenge Cup semi-final. On a muddy field, Chhetri played with stitches on his head)
For the next one, we have to travel to Delhi for the final. We defeated Tajikistan 4-1. The second goal I scored, I still remember. I chested the ball down and scored from that. That goal is extremely dear to me.
(The AFC Challenge Cup final was played on August 13, 2008, in New Delhi. Chhetri scored a hat-trick)
The next one I think is the one against Vietnam in Pune. It was an Anthony Pereira ball and I scored with a flick. We won that match against Vietnam and I scored a hat-trick for the country, but I still think the second goal. I think we do have the footage of that goal. I went to the first post and side-flicked in a little stylish manner. That's why I'm naming this goal here. It was a bit of a stylish attempt and it went in. Not a very easy skill but I did it and very happy I think I was.
(The International friendly was played on October 10, 2010, in Pune. India won 3-1)
The 10th goal I want to mention is close to my heart because of the way it happened. It was the goal against Lebanon in the recently concluded Hero Intercontinental Cup. It is because of the ball's position, because of the composure. Right from Anwar (Ali) to Sandesh (Jhingan), Sandesh to (Lallianzuala) Chhangte, and then to (Nikhil) Poojary. Everything went off so well in that. We had trained the same movement in training multiple times. you know, when something that you have trained for a long and it happens on the pitch, you feel so satisfied. So, for me as a captain, it was extremely satisfactory because we had trained and produced the result against Lebanon in a very important game.
(The final of the Hero Intercontinental Cup was played in Bhubaneswar on June 18, 2023)