• Thursday, July 25, 2024

FOOTBALL

Sunil Chhetri bids adieu to football as India-Kuwait match ends in dull draw

At 39, Chhetri concluded his international career with 94 goals, placing him among the world’s top all-time scorers.

Chhetri’s 151st and final appearance for India was marked by an emotional farewell. (Photo: Getty Images)

By: Vivek Mishra

Sunil Chhetri’s final match for India ended in a 0-0 draw against Kuwait in a World Cup qualifier on Thursday, as thousands of fans gathered to bid farewell to the football legend.

Nearly 59,000 spectators filled the stadium in Kolkata to witness the captain’s swan song, a significant turnout in a country where cricket dominates sports popularity.

Fans began arriving at the stadium hours before the gates opened, eager to chant, sound bullhorns, and dance in the heat.

The crowd’s energy surged during Chhetri’s touches on the ball, although the overall atmosphere remained calm.

At 39, Chhetri concluded his international career with 94 goals, placing him among the world’s top all-time scorers, alongside Cristiano Ronaldo, Iran’s retired Ali Daei, and Lionel Messi.

His 151st and final appearance for India was marked by an emotional farewell. Chhetri’s best chance in the 55th minute was thwarted when a pass from Brandon Fernandes was intercepted by the Kuwait keeper.

As he left the field, Chhetri waved to the crowds and pressed his palms together in thanks. He wiped away tears while walking through an honour guard formed by his teammates.

One banner in the stands read, “Referee don’t blow the whistle, otherwise Sunil Chhetri will leave us.” Another banner depicted Chhetri carrying a giant football in India’s national colours.

Chhetri made his debut against Pakistan in 2005, scoring India’s only goal. Over the years, he became known for his exceptional skills and dedication to the sport.

In 2011, he scored a hat-trick against Tajikistan to help India qualify for the Asian Cup for the first time in 27 years. His contributions to Indian football have been widely recognised and celebrated.

“He became a legend while still playing, and that’s something only a few can do,” India’s coach Igor Stimac said last month. “He’s an inspiration to everyone, absolutely committed to the Indian jersey.” Chhetri’s impact on Indian football is immeasurable, and his legacy will continue to inspire future generations.

Although he had brief stints in Portugal with Sporting CP and in the United States with the Kansas City Wizards, Chhetri spent most of his career in India.

He currently plays for Bengaluru FC, where he has been a key player and leader.

In 2009, he was offered a contract by London club Queens Park Rangers, but he could not get a work permit, which prevented him from playing in England.

India is currently second in Group A of the World Cup qualifiers, behind Qatar and a point ahead of Afghanistan and Kuwait.

The top two teams from the group will advance to the next stage. India’s next match is against Qatar in Doha on Tuesday, while Kuwait will host Afghanistan in the final round of group games.

The team’s performance in these matches will determine their chances of advancing further in the tournament.

(AFP)

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