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Indian Football Icon Sunil Chhetri Announces His Retirement

Sunil Chhetri, India’s most decorated footballer, has announced his retirement from international football. Chhetri, 39, made the announcement through a video on social media platform X, mentioning that India’s upcoming FIFA World Cup Qualifier game against Kuwait in Kolkata on June 6 will be his last.

“The recollection of the last 19 years is a combination of duty, pressure and immense joy. I never thought that these are the many games I would play for the country, good or bad but now I did but these last one and half two months I did. And this (the feeling) was very strange. I was probably going towards the decision that this game (against Kuwait) is going to be my last,” Chhetri said.

Sunil Chhetri, a name synonymous with Indian football, boasts a glittering career spanning over two decades. This gifted forward has not only dominated domestic leagues but also carved his name on the international stage. Call it coincidences or a twist of fate, Chhetri will play his final game in the city where he made his India debut 19 years ago. India’s game against Kuwait is a must-win to stay in contention for a World Cup Qualifiers Round 3 berth. Currently ranked second in Group A with four points from four games, India travel to face Qatar in their final group stage match. Only the top two teams progress.

“There is one day that I never forget and remember it quite often is the first time I played for my country man, it was unbelievable. But the day before, morning of the day, Sukhi sir, my first national team coach, in the morning he came to me and he’s like, you’re going to start? I can’t tell you how I was feeling man. I took my jersey, I sprayed some perfume on it, I have no idea why. So that day, everything that happened, once he told me, from breakfast to lunch and to the game and to my first goal in my debut, to conceding late 80th minute, that day is probably that I will never forget and is one of the best days of my national team journey,” Chhetri added.

“And the moment I told myself first, that yes, this is the game that is going to be my last, is when I started recollecting everything. It was so strange, I started thinking about this game, that game, this coach, that coach, that team, that member, that ground, that away match, this good game, that bad game, all my individual performances, everything came, all the flashes came. So I decided that this is it.”

Watch Sunil Chhetri’s retirement speech below:

Chhetri’s journey began in 2002 with Mohun Bagan. His talent soon propelled him abroad, with stints at the USA’s Kansas City Wizards (2010) and Portugal’s Sporting CP reserves (2012). Back in India, he donned the jerseys of prestigious clubs like East Bengal, Dempo, Mumbai City FC, and currently, Bengaluru FC. It’s with Bengaluru that Chhetri truly flourished, lifting trophies like the I-League (2014, 2016), ISL (2019), and Super Cup (2018). He even led them to the AFC Cup final in 2016.

Chhetri, the goal-scoring machine
While club success is impressive, Sunil Chhetri’s true magic lies in his international exploits. He has been instrumental in India’s victories in the Nehru Cup (2007, 2009, 2012) and the SAFF Championship (2011, 2015, 2021). Most significantly, his contribution to India’s 2008 AFC Challenge Cup win secured their first AFC Asian Cup appearance in 27 years.

But it’s his goalscoring prowess that sets Chhetri apart. Since his debut goal in 2002, he has amassed a staggering tally. With 94 goals in 150 international appearances, he sits comfortably as the third-highest active international goal-scorer, behind only Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal and Argentina’s Lionel Messi. This achievement places him fourth on the all-time list.

Chhetri’s international debut came in 2005, followed by his first goal against Pakistan. A defining moment arrived in the 2011 SAFF Championship, where he surpassed Indian legend I.M. Vijayan’s record of six goals in a single edition by scoring a phenomenal seven, propelling India to victory and becoming the national team’s highest scorer.

Across club and country, Chhetri’s goal tally stands at a remarkable 252 in 515 appearances, averaging almost a goal every two games. This consistency and talent haven’t gone unnoticed. In 2022, FIFA honoured him with a documentary titled “Captain Fantastic,” celebrating his journey and achievements.

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