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Sunil Chhetri, India's longest-serving football captain, to retire after June 6

India's World Cup qualifying match against Kuwait will be his last.
Last Updated : 16 May 2024, 04:25 IST
Last Updated : 16 May 2024, 04:25 IST

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New Delhi: The iconic Sunil Chhetri on Thursday announced his decision to retire from international football after the FIFA World Cup qualifying match against Kuwait on June 6, bringing the curtains down on a career that is unparalleled in Indian football for its longevity and consistency.

The long-serving national team captain announced his decision via a video he posted on his social media accounts.

Chhetri, who made his debut in 2005, has scored 94 goals for the country. He will leave the scene as India's all-time top scorer and most-capped player.

He is also third in the list of goal scorers among active players behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi and currently sits as the fourth in the all-time list of international goal-scorers as well.

Chhetri, 39, will walk into international sunset after rendering yeoman service for nearly two decades, 19 years to be precise, to a team that was heavily reliant on the 5'7" forward to deliver the goods every time he wore the blue jersey.

"The match Against Kuwait is the last," Chhetri said while announcing his decision.

Chhetri's final match will be played at the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata, and it is appropriate that he will end his journey in a city, where he has played a lot of his football while evolving into a potent striker.

India are currently second in Group A with four points, behind leaders Qatar.

Chhetri had made his 150th national appearance in March and scored on the occasion against Afghanistan in Guwahati. India, though, stunningly lost that game 1-2.

On his international debut against Pakistan way back in 2005, Chhetri, who would go on to become one of the game's most lethal strikers, scored, and he rated it as his best moment.

"There is one day that I never forget and remember it quite often is the first time I played for my country man, it was unbelievable.

"But the day before, morning of the day, Sukhi sir (Sukhwinder Singh), my first national team coach, in the morning he came to me and he's like, you're going to start? I can't tell you how I was feeling man," Chhetri recalled.

He added, "I took my jersey, I sprayed some perfume on it, I have no idea why. So that day, everything that happened, once he told me, from breakfast to lunch and to the game and to my first goal in my debut, to conceding late in the 80th minute, that day is probably that I will never forget and is one of the best days of my national team journey."

Speaking on the future of Indian football, Chettri said that it was time for the country to find the next 9. He felt the team is currently handicapped as none of the current lot of players play as the main striker for their respective clubs and sees the massive hole in the current national team.

In recent times, Chhetri said he could sense that he was heading towards the end of his glorious journey.

"You know the feeling that I recollect in the last 19 years is a very nice combination between duty, pressure and immense joy. I never thought individually, these are the many games that I've played for the country, this is what I've done, good or bad, but now I did it.

"This last one and a half, two months, I did it and it was very strange. I did it because probably I was going towards the decision that this game, this next game is going to be my last."

The moment he had arrived at the decision, memories came flooding back to his mind.

"And the moment I told myself first, that yes, this is the game that is going to be my last, is when I started recollecting everything.

"It was so strange, I started thinking about this game, that game, this coach, that coach, that team, that member, that ground, that away match, this good game, that bad game, all my individual performances, everything came, all the flashes came. So when I did decide that this is it, this is going to be my last game."

His family members reacted differently to his big decision.

"I told my mom, my dad and my wife, my family first, my dad was...he was normal, he was relieved, happy, everything, but my mom and my wife started crying," he said.

"...they couldn't express to me as to why they burst into tears. It's not that I was feeling tired, it's not that I was feeling this or that, when the instinct came that this should be my last game, then I thought about it a lot."

Among major successes, Chhetri helped India win the Nehru Cup (2007, 2009, 2012) as well as the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Championship (2011, 2015, 2021).

He also played a part in India's 2008 AFC Challenge Cup win, which helped them qualify for the first AFC Asian Cup (2011) in 27 years.

The Secunderabad-born footballer, who made his club debut for Mohun Bagan in 2002, went on to play for USA's Major League Soccer team Kansas City Wizards in 2010 as well as for the reserve team of the Sporting CP in the Portuguese football league back in 2012.

The seven-time AIFF Player of the Year winner has also represented major Indian clubs like East Bengal (2008-2009), Dempo (2009-2010), and Indian Super League sides Mumbai City FC (2015-2016) and Bengaluru FC.

In club football, he has tasted most success at Bengaluru FC, winning major trophies like the I-League (2014 and 2016), ISL (2019), Super Cup (2018). He also led Bengaluru FC to the AFC Cup final in 2016.

Chhetri was felicitated ahead of his 150th outing for the Blue Tigers in the World Cup qualifier against Afghanistan in Guwahati.

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Published 16 May 2024, 04:25 IST

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