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Top 5 Indian goalscorers in SAFF Championship history

Sunil Chhetri, Bhaichung Bhutia and I.M. Vijayan have been prolific scorers for India in the SAFF Championship. (Image - Sportstar)
Sunil Chhetri, Bhaichung Bhutia and I.M. Vijayan have been prolific scorers for India in the SAFF Championship. (Image - Sportstar)

The 2021 South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Championship kicks off on October 1st in MalΓ©, Maldives.

The Indian national football team has won the SAFF Championship a record seven times. With 92 goals in 12 editions, the Blue Tigers are also the highest goalscorers of the competition.

#BlueTigers 🐯 land in Maldives πŸ‡²πŸ‡» for SAFF Championship πŸ›¬Read πŸ‘‰ bit.ly/3EXyewS#SAFFChampionship2021 πŸ† #BackTheBlue πŸ’™ #IndianFootball ⚽ https://t.co/J1yNyPk0lu

Top 5 scorers for India in SAFF Championship

Here, we take a look at the five players who have scored the most goals for India across all editions of the SAFF Championship. Almost half of India's goals (45 out of 92) have been scored by these five strikers.


#5 Sushil Kumar Singh - 4 goals

India won the 2009 SAFF Championship under the captaincy of Sushil Kumar Singh. (image - goal.com)
India won the 2009 SAFF Championship under the captaincy of Sushil Kumar Singh. (image - goal.com)

Sushil's four goals are spread across three tournaments in 2008, 2009 and 2011. The first came in a 4-0 rout of Nepal in the 2008 group stages in Maldives, which was also his first international goal.

Sushil was elected captain for the 2009 tournament in Bangladesh, where India sent their U-23 squad. He scored the only goals in the 1-0 wins over Nepal and Bangladesh. Against the latter, it was a brilliant free kick which sent India into the final where the Blue Tigers beat Maldives on penalties to win their fifth SAFF title.

Sushil's most stunning goal, however, came two years later on home soil in Delhi. In the 2011 final, he struck from outside the box in injury time to cap off a memorable 4-0 win as India lifted their sixth SAFF title.


#4 Jeje Lalpekhlua - 6 goals

The Mizo Sniper scored three goals in the knockout stage of the 2015 SAFF Championship. (image - PTI)
The Mizo Sniper scored three goals in the knockout stage of the 2015 SAFF Championship. (image - PTI)

Six of Jeje's 29 international goals for India across all levels have come in the SAFF Championship.

Against Afghanistan in the 2009 edition, he scored the late goal in a 1-0 victory. Jeje added two more in Delhi in 2011, netting in a 3-0 win over Sri Lanka in the group stage and then in the final against Afghanistan.

But the Mizo Sniper's most important contribution came in the 2015 tournament in Thiruvananthapuram. His brace against Maldives in the semi-final took India to the final where they would meet Afghanistan for the third consecutive time. As India trailed in the final, Jeje's equalizer in the 72nd minute sent the match into extra time before Sunil Chhetri won it for the Blue Tigers.


#3 I.M. Vijayan - 10 goals

The Black Buck of Indian football has won the SAFF Championship three times (image - theturffootball.com)
The Black Buck of Indian football has won the SAFF Championship three times (image - theturffootball.com)

I.M. Vijayan is the second-highest goalscorer for India in international football with 30 goals. One-third of those came in the SAFF Championship, including India's first-ever goal in the competition in Lahore in 1993. Vijayan scored three goals in that edition as India were crowned the inaugural champions of the tournament, then known as the SAARC Gold Cup.

'Kalo Harin' then became the top-scorer in 1997 with a whopping six goals in three braces - first against Bangladesh in the group stage, then against Pakistan in the semi-final and finally against Maldives in the final. India thrashed them 5-1 to secure their second SAFF trophy.

Vijayan's last goal in the SAFF Championship arrived in the third-place match in 2003 when India beat Pakistan 2-1. It was also I.M. Vijayan's last appearance in the tournament and he announced his retirement from international football the same year.


#2 Bhaichung Bhutia - 12 goals

Bhaichung Bhutia has won seven international trophies with India, including 3 SAFF titles. (image - thehindu.com)
Bhaichung Bhutia has won seven international trophies with India, including 3 SAFF titles. (image - thehindu.com)

Sikkimese Sniper Bhaichung Bhutia netted a dozen times in the SAFF Championship in five different editions spanning from 1995 to 2008. His brace against Sri Lanka in 1995 were also his first senior goals for India. Bhutia scored three more in the 1997 tournament in Kathmandu, including in the final against Maldives.

In 1999 in Goa, Bhutia was the joint top-scorer with three goals and was also named the most valuable player. The three goals came against Pakistan in the group stage, Maldives in the semi-final and in the all-important final with Bangladesh.

Bhutia captained the Indian side in the 2005 SAFF Championship and scored two goals, including one in the 2-0 final win over Bangladesh, leading the Blue Tigers to their fourth title in Islamabad.

The 2008 edition was the final one for Bhutia. He scored the second goal in a 4-0 victory over Nepal in the tournament opener, the last of his 12 SAFF Championship goals.


#1 Sunil Chhetri - 13 goals

Sunil Chhetri was the top-scorer at 2011 SAFF Championship in Delhi (Image - AIFF Media)
Sunil Chhetri was the top-scorer at 2011 SAFF Championship in Delhi (Image - AIFF Media)

Sunil Chhetri, the greatest football player South Asia has ever produced, started his SAFF journey in 2008 where he scored twice against Nepal and Bhutan.

It was in 2011 when Chhetri totally took the tournament by storm. He bagged at least a goal in each of the five matches India played and top-scored with seven goals. Chhetri broke the record for most goals scored in a single edition of the SAFF Championship by an Indian, overtaking Vijayan's six goals from 1997. The two most significant goals were the penalties in the semi-final and final against Maldives and Afghanistan respectively, where he handed India the lead.

In 2013, Chhetri's only goal was an equalizer from a free-kick in injury time against Bangladesh in the group stage, which proved to be crucial in India's qualification for the semi-final.

The captain led India to their seventh SAFF title in 2015, finding the net three times in four matches. Chhetri scored the opener in the 3-2 semi-final victory over Maldives before netting an extra-time winner against Afghanistan in the final in Thiruvananthapuram.

India win the 2015 SAFF Championship in Thiruvananthapuram. (Image - AP)
India win the 2015 SAFF Championship in Thiruvananthapuram. (Image - AP)

Sunil Chhetri didn't feature in the 2018 tournament in Dhaka as India sent a youthful squad. But the Bengaluru FC striker is back for the 2021 edition and will be leading the side once again, hoping to bring the cup back to India and add to his 13-goal tally.

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Edited by Habil Ahmed Sherule
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