Intercontinental Cup 2018: 'I was so happy that I forgot we were playing in Pakistan' - Sunil Chhetri on his debut
4th June, Mumbai: Sunil Chhetri will be the centre of attraction as he gets ready to make his 100th international appearance in the Intercontinental Cup match against Kenya. With 59 goals to his name, the talismanic striker is India’s all-time leading scorer.
"I had a dream of course, but I never even imagined playing 100 International matches. This is unbelievable and I’m completely honoured by the fact that I will feature for my 100th game when we play against Kenya," said Chhetri, prior to Team India’s practice session. "Honestly, I never think too much about milestones. I was having a chat with my mother the other night and she became a bit emotional. How big it was for her made me realize how great the occasion actually is," the Indian skipper shared.
"I need to thank my parents, friends, family, all my coaches, fellow players, fans, and media for all their support in my journey. I feel fortunate enough to able to be the second person in the history of the nation to get 100 chances to represent my country and stand for the national anthem. I just hope that I will be able to keep my emotions under control, play the game as we should by sticking to the plan, and try to win the game for the country," Chhetri added.
Speaking on his international journey so far, Chhetri recollected the day he made his debut, which was against Pakistan in 2005 and he scored the only goal for his side in a 1-1 stalemate.
"I still remember my first match for India. We were playing Pakistan at their home, and Syed Rahim Nabi and I were the rookies. We were kind of chilling, knowing the fact that we may not be fielded. However, Sukhi sir (Sukhwinder Singh) had this habit of informing the starting XI on the match day, at breakfast and he announced that both of us will start the game. I still remember not being able to take a nap in the afternoon as I was so excited," said the Indian skipper, reminiscing the old days.
"We were just 20-year-olds, happy to get a place in the senior national team and all of a sudden we learnt that we would be starting for the first time ever. It was really special, I was lucky enough to get a goal and so happy that I forgot we were actually playing in Pakistan so I ran to the Pakistani fans and started to celebrate. There is a very sad photograph where I’m doing this (celebration) in front of the fans, and no one in the team followed me," he says hysterically.
"Once you grow older, you play more and you understand what’s not good for you rather than what works for you. One also tends to start filtering stuff which is not needed and which is not important for you. So I learned to do the things which work for me." he said, referring to Bhaichung Bhutia’s accolades for him evolving as a player.
Reflecting upon the most difficult matches he has played, Chhetri stated that "As a player, I have been in many tough matches. The games against South Korea, Australia, and Bahrain in the 2011 Asian Cup were extremely difficult. We played Japan in Bengaluru and that was challenging as well."
Chhetri feels that the importance of a match makes it tougher. That is the reason why the matches against Myanmar (away in Yangon) and the home match against the Kyrgyz Republic were so demanding during India's road to qualification for the UAE Asian Cup.
The illustrated career and goal scoring spree of this living legend of Indian football started way back in 2005. Since then, the number of goals have only increased and the number of celebrations have gone down, showing the mark of a true champion.