Jan 11 Indian footballer Sunil Chhetri has become the second-most prolific scorer in a national football team, overtaking Argentinean footballer Lionel Messi.
By scoring two goals during the opening match of the Asian Cup against Thailand in Abu Dhabi, Chhetri overtook Messi, having scored 67 for India in total since his first national cap in 2005.
The only footballer who has scored more than Chhetri is Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, who has scored 85 goals for his national team.
“There is no comparison whatsoever between me and Lionel Messi or Ronaldo, but I am very, very honoured,” Chhetri said.
“I don’t take it for granted, the goals I score for my country. Every time I get an opportunity, I do my best to score,” the 34-year-old striker for Bengaluru FC added.
Following the match, India’s head coach Stephen Constantine praised Chhetri, calling him an inspiration for his teammates.
“Sunil Chhetri is an absolute professional and has shown that time and time again, he gives everything for India every time he plays,” Constantine said.
“He is a phenomenal goal scorer at this level.”
“He has worked so hard over the years and has always tried to be as good as he possibly can and inspiring his teammates,” Constantine added.
“He deserves to be talked about all over Asia and elsewhere for what he has done for India,” the British coach, who has headed the team since 2015, added.
Despite his success for the national team, Chhetri’s professional career has mostly taken place in his home country leading to his relative anonymity in international football.
The striker was linked to several European clubs, but a definitive transfer never happened despite interest from English clubs Coventry and Queens Park Rangers (QPR) and Portuguese club Sporting Lisbon.
However, Coventry turned Chhetri down in 2009 based on his skills, QPR could not acquire a work permit for the Indian national and after playing several games for the Sporting Lisbon B team, Chhetri returned to India.
The match against Thailand was not only important for Chhetri, but it also marked India’s first Asian Cup win since 1964.
“The Asian Cup, it could not be bigger for us,” Chhetri said following the win.
“We need to stay focused and keep working hard.”
India’s next matches will be against the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Credit