Sunil Chhetri's brace powered the Indian Football Team to victory for the first time in 731 days as they beat Bangladesh 2-0 in their 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifying campaign. The win helped the Blue Tigers catapult into third position in the points table with six points from seven matches.
The first goal came as Sunil Chhetri sneaked in between two defenders and slotted the ball into the back of the net with a glancing header. The second goal was nothing but pure genius. Sunil Chhetri cut back a couple of steps to trap the ball with his right foot and then chipped it past the goalkeeper to complete his brace.
Although Sunil Chhetri's goal for India should strike a jubilant chord among fans, they may be forgiven if that wasn't the case. After all, the nation of 1.3 billion people still needs to be dependent on a 36-year-old to get a win.
The only two other strikers that have traveled to Qatar for the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers are Manvir Singh and Ishan Pandita. Manvir had a glorious opportunity to give the Indian Football Team the lead against Bangladesh when he was presented with a one-on-one opportunity.
The ATK Mohun Bagan player took too much time and failed to take a shot. That one move summarized the inexperience of Indian strikers. Manvir has 4 goals in 19 international matches to his name, but when it comes to the big games, he still needs to improve.
Why hasn't ISL produced another Sunil Chhetri?
To mold another Sunil Chhetri, the country's premier football league, ISL needs to provide ample opportunities to Indian strikers. However, with clubs allowed to field five foreigners on the pitch, an Indian name rarely features as a striker.
Manvir Singh, who scored 6 ISL goals in the 2020-21 season, played as a right winger for his club ATK Mohun Bagan as opposed to a central striker. The other striker in the team, Ishan Pandita, played as a substitute throughout FC Goa's campaign and only had 131 minutes of playing time in ISL.
Other options in the country don't paint a rosy picture either. Bipin Singh had 6 goals in 22 matches playing on the left wing. Halicharan Narzary and Lallianzuala Chhangte both had four goals to their names. Neither of them were deployed as strikers.
As a matter of fact, Sunil Chhetri is the only Indian name to figure in the top ten list of goalscorers for the 2020-21 ISL season. Budding strikers like Vikram Pratap Singh, Rohit Danu and Ishan Pandita are warming benches rather than playing on the field.
Going back to the I-League, Bidyashagar Singh impressed all and sundry by becoming the top scorer with 12 goals in 15 matches. However, Indian Football Team head coach Igor Stimac didn't reward him with a national team call.
The ISL will see only four foreign players deployed on the pitch from next season. It remains to be seen if it can produce Sunil Chhetri's successor.