Football - Chhetri
Indian captain Sunil Chhetri (white) proves unstoppable for two Bangladesh players during their Fifa World Cup Qualifier in Doha on Monday. Image Credit: Supplied photo

Kolkata: Sunil Chhetri, the talismanic skipper, became the toast of Indian football a day after he overhauled Lionel Messi (yes, you have heard it right) to be second highest on goalscorer’s list among active players in internationals. He is now second in the list with 74 goals, followed by Messi at joint 11th with a tally of 72.

Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo tops the active players’ tally with 103 goals, while Iran’s Ali Daei is on top of the alltime list with 109 goals.

Fifa, the governing body of the game, acknowledged his feat with a video clip on social media though Chhetri himself seems unfazed about the landmark. “I do not count the number of goals. 10 years later, we will sit together, have a chat and then count,” he said after the final whistle against Bangladesh in the Fifa World Cup Qualifiers Qatar 2022.

“The match against Bangladesh was a tough match, frustrating at times,” said the 36-year-old, who had been the biggest brand ambassador for Indian football after Baichung Bhtia. “We were guilty of missing a lot of chances. We could have done better. It has been a topsy-turvy qualifying campaign. Looking back, we understand that we could have done a lot better. We will talk about it but I am happy that we got three points,” Chhetri said.

Reminded about the goalscoring landmark, Chettri told the AIFF website: “You know what. All of this is past. We play Afghanistan, and we have to be at our best. It will be a new day, a new canvas. And it is up to us to paint it the manner we want to.” he argued.

Igor Stimac, the former Croatian World Cupper and head coach of Indian team, gave his work ethic a big thumbs-up when he said: “Many people keep on asking as to when Sunil is going to retire. He works so hard on the pitch, and in every training session, he is by far the best. He is in such good shape and is working with such professionalism. He is working as if he is 25, playing as if he is 25, and scoring goals like he is 25.”

There is allround praise from his teammates. Sandesh Jhingan, a pillar in their defence, felt that Chhetri’s name will still be remembered even after a century. “Some 100 or 200 years down the line, people will still talk about Sunil Chhetri. As long as there is Indian football, people will remember his name. It’s for everyone to see what he does on the field. Hence, I would rather like to mention that off the field he is the perfect example for all to follow.

“I will keep on mentioning that there’s one guy floating in between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi – and that’s my teammate, my captain Sunil Chhetri,” goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu expressed. “It shows his commitment and how consistent he has been scoring goals – one after the other. It’s simply remarkable,” he added.