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Sunil Chhetri Special Moments in Indian Football

Indian Football Team captain Sunil Chhetri announced that he will retire from International Football after the FIFA World Cup 2026 qualifier match against Kuwait on June 6.

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Abishek Goswami
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Sunil Chhetri's special moments

Sunil Chhetri's special moments | Image: AIFF

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Indian Football Legend Sunil Chhetri announced that he will retire from International Football after the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers 2026 match against Kuwait in Kolkata on June 6. He has scored the most goals in his career after Ronaldo and Messi. Till now he has scored 94 goals and played 150 matches for the country. The long-serving national team captain announced his decision via a video he posted on his social media accounts. So, it's time we look at Sunil Chhetri's special moments in his career.

Read Also: Sunil Chhetri to play his last match for India against Kuwait in June

Special Moments in Sunil Chhetri's International Career

2005 - Senior India debut

Chhetri made his senior India debut against Pakistan on 12 June 2005 in Quetta and scored his maiden goal. Chhetri was a surprise inclusion for technical director Sukhwinder Singh on his maiden trip with the senior team. Chhetri proved his worth and selection with a goal. However, Pakistan scored and drew the game.

2007 Nehru Cup Triumph

Chhetri scored against Syria in the Nehru Cup
Chhetri scored against Syria in the Nehru Cup | Image: S. Subramanium

Sunil Chhetri lifted his maiden International title by winning the 2007 Nehru Cup with India. India faced Syria in the Final and won the game by a narrow 1-0 margin. Syria were the favourites but the Blue Tigers were seeking revenge for their early 2-3 loss in the group stage. Chhetri scored in that game, playing alongside Bhaichung Bhutia but lost it. However, it was a huge achievement for India as it was their first Nehru Cup title.

2008 - Hattrick against Tajikistan in the AFC Challenge Cup Final

Chhetri and Bhutia helped India demolish Tajikistan in the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup Final. Chhetri completed his hat trick in the 75th minute and took India back to the Asian Cup for the first time since 1984. It was a special moment for the Indian players and fans. For Chhetri, it surely is one of the biggest achievements of his career, scoring a hat trick in the Final of the Challenge Cup.

2011 SAFF Championship Victory

Chhetri contributed to India’s victorious 2011 SAFF Championship campaign with his seven goals. It was the 9th tournament of the SAFF Championship, which was held in New Delhi, India. The Blue Tigers dominated the campaign completely and ended up winning their sixth SAFF Championship title. Sunil Chhetri was awarded the Player of the Tournament Award as he was the top scorer in the competition.

Chhetri scored 7 goals in the 2011 SAFF Championship
Chhetri scored 7 goals in the 2011 SAFF Championship | Image: X

2012 Nehru Cup Triumph

Chhetri topped the goal-scorers chart with four goals to his name, helping India win the 2012 Nehru Cup. India were the two-time defending champions of the Nehru Cup before coming into this campaign. The Blue Tigers faced Cameroon in the Final. They weren't at full strength as only five of their starters from the final would go on to make more regular places in the full side, but they were good. India were trailing 2-1 on 54 minutes, but Chhetri brought India back in the game by scoring a late equalizer. Ultimately, India won the match and title in a shootout (5-4).

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2017 - 13-match unbeaten run & Qualification for the Asian Cup

The Indian national team registered a record 13-match unbeaten run and qualified for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, the biggest continental tournament, by topping their play-off round group with two games to spare under the leadership of Sunil Chhetri. India registered four victories in as many games at the Asian Cup qualifiers to book their ticket to the UAE. Captain Chhetri top-scored for the team with four goals in five games. It was India's fourth Asian Cup participation, after 1964, 1984, and 2011.

2018 - Hattrick against Chinese Taipei in the Intercontinental Cup and 100th appearance

Sunil Chhetri's 100th appearance for India
Sunil Chhetri's 100th appearance for India | Image: X

In the 2018 Intercontinental Cup, Chhetri was the best player of the tournament as the Indian forward scored eight goals. This includes a brilliant hat trick against Chinese Taipei in the first game of the tournament. Chhetri scored twice in the first half and then added another one in the second to complete the hat trick as India beat Chinese Taipei by a 5-0 scoreline.

Chhetri made his 100th appearance for the Blue Tigers in the next match against Kenya and helped his side earn a 3-0 comfortable victory. He opened the scoring with a second-half penalty and then set Jeje up for the second. He scored the brace in the additional minutes to complete the demolition of Kenya.

2019 - Brace against Thailand in the Asian Cup

India's campaign at the 2019 Asian Cup couldn't have gotten off to a better start. Chhetri started it all with a quickly taken throw, from which Ashique Kuruniyan earned a penalty, which Chhetri converted. Though Thailand would equalize before halftime, the second half belonged to an energetic India. Chhetri characterized that energy, scoring one of three peerless Indian goals in 45 minutes that made the world sit up and take notice.

2021 - Becomes joint 6th highest scorer of all time

On 13 October 2021, he scored twice again in a 3–1 win over Maldives in the 2021 SAFF Championship, making him the joint-sixth all-time international goal scorer at that time, and the third-highest active international goal scorer in football, behind only Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

2022 - Qualification for the Asian Cup

India qualified for the back-to-back Asian Cup
India has qualified for five Asian Cups, in 1964, 1984, 2011, 2019, and 2023 | Image: AIFF

Since the AFC Asian Cup was founded in 1956, India has qualified for five Asian Cups, in 1964, 1984, 2011, 2019, and 2023. The Blue Tigers qualified for the AFC Asian Cup 2023 even before the opening whistle of their final third-round qualifier match against Hong Kong. The third round was their final chance to qualify for the AFC Asian Cup 2023. 

It saw 24 teams fight for the 11 remaining spots. The sides were divided into six groups of four teams each with the eventual six group winners and five best runner-ups qualifying for next year’s Asian Cup. Drawn in Group D, India beat Cambodia 2-0 in the opening match and earned a hard-fought 2-1 over Afghanistan in their second outing. 

Ahead of their final game against group toppers Hong Kong, Chhetri, and Co. were placed 2nd in Group D. Hong Kong were above India based on goal difference. India were already assured at least a second-place finish in Group D even before the Hong Kong match began. However, Palestine beat the Philippines 4-0 in Group B, which set the second-placed team to finish with just four points. India already had six so they qualified irrespective of their result against Hong Kong. 

2023 - Becomes second highest Asian goal scorer of all time

Chhetri holds the awards for best player and top goalscorer after India won the 2023 SAFF Championship
Chhetri holds the awards for best player and top goalscorer after India won the 2023 SAFF Championship | Image: Murali Kumar K

Captain Sunil Chhetri scored a hat-trick in India's thumping 4-0 win over Pakistan in their opening Group A match of the SAFF Championship in Bengaluru. In the process, Chhetri became the second-highest goal-scorer in Asia and fourth-highest in International Football. Chhetri's three goals took his tally to a total of 90 goals from 138 matches just behind former Iran footballer Ali Daei who has 109 goals in 148 matches.

The Indian captain surpassed Mokhtar Dahari of Malaysia (with 89 goals) to climb to the fourth spot among the highest goal-scorers in international football. Argentina legend Lionel Messi (103 goals), Iran's retired player Ali Daei (109 goals), and legendary Portugal striker Cristiano Ronaldo (123) are only ahead of Chhetri in the goal-scoring list.

2024 - 150th appearance for India

AIFF President congratulates Chhetri on his 150th International match
AIFF President congratulates Chhetri on his 150th International appearance | Image: AIFF

Chhetri made his 150th appearance for India and scored on the occasion against Afghanistan in Guwahati. However, the Blue Tigers lost that game 1-2. Chhetri extended his goal tally to 94 goals in international football by drawing first blood for the hosts. With the goal, Chhetri also extended his unique record of scoring for India in his first, 25th, 50th, 75th, 100th, 125th, and 150th games. He is currently the third-highest active goalscorer in the International Football.

Indian Football Saff Championship Sunil Chhetri