Sunil Chhetri Debut: When did the former Indian football captain make his national team debut?

Former Indian skipper Sunil Chhetri. (Credit: Indian Football/X)
Former Indian skipper Sunil Chhetri (Credit: Indian Football/X)

The face of Indian football Sunil Chhetri bid adieu to international football after the game against Kuwait in the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers 2026 at the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata last week.

Chhetri’s international career spanned 19 years, which saw him becoming the Indian national football team’s captain.

Sunil Chhetri made his debut as a 21-year-old against Pakistan in 2005 in a friendly encounter. Though he wasn’t part of the initial starting XI in that particular game, he came in as a substitute, scoring India's lone goal in a 1-1 draw at the Ayub Stadium in Quetta, Pakistan.

Prior to his international debut, Chhetri started off his career with City Football Club from Delhi, scoring his first goal as a 17-year-old in the Durand Cup against the Indian Navy.

In July 2002, Chhetri signed his first professional contract with Mohun Bagan Club, scoring his first ever senior professional goal in the National Football League 2002-03 season. His performances for the club propelled him to make his international debut in 2005.

Since making his international debut in 2005, Chhetri helped the Indian national team lift Nehru Cup titles in 2007, 2009, and 2012. Furthermore, he also guided India to title wins at the SAFF Championships in 2011, 2015, and 2021.

Sunil Chhetri - India's most decorated footballer

Remarkably, Sunil Chhetri has scored 252 goals for the major Indian clubs and the nation, showcasing his goal-scoring prowess. Ninety-four of those goals came in 151 international matches, becoming the fourth-leading goal-scorer in internationals, just behind Cristiano Ronaldo (128), Ali Daei (108), and Lionel Messi (106).

The legendary Indian footballer has created numerous records, winning the AIFF Player of the Year award on seven occasions, the most by any Indian. He also led India to a title win in the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup, their first AFC Asian Cup in 27 years.

In November 2021, Chhetri was honored with the Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna Award, India's highest sporting honor. He is the only footballer to secure the honor. He received the Arjuna Award in 2011 and the Padma Shri in 2019.

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