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Friday, June 21, 2024

Sunil Chhetri to retire from international football


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Bengaluru: Indian football legend Sunil Chhetri has announced that he will retire from international football following India’s FIFA World Cup qualifier match against Kuwait at the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata on June 6.

Chhetri, 39, has been a pivotal figure in Indian football, elevating the nation’s presence on the global stage. The Secunderabad-born striker debuted for India against Pakistan in 2005, scoring his first international goal in his maiden senior match.

In his over 19-year career, Chhetri has earned 150 caps for India and scored 94 goals, ranking him fourth on the all-time international goal scorer’s list, behind Cristiano Ronaldo, Ali Daei, and Lionel Messi.

“You know, the feeling I recollect from the last 19 years is a unique mix of duty, pressure, and immense joy,” Chhetri shared in an emotional address on social media.

Reflecting on his decision, he said, “I realised I was moving towards the decision that this game (against Kuwait), this next game, is going to be my last. And the moment I told myself that this is the game that’s going to be my last, I started recollecting everything. It felt so strange.”

Chhetri’s tenure has been marked by significant achievements, including victories in the Nehru Cup (2007, 2009, 2012) and the SAFF Championship (2011, 2015, 2021). He also played a crucial role in India’s 2008 AFC Challenge Cup win, which led to their first AFC Asian Cup appearance in 27 years (2011). He has captained the Indian team since 2012.

Despite his decision to retire, Chhetri remains passionate about the game.

“It’s not that I was feeling tired. When the instinct came that this should be my last game, I thought about it a lot. And eventually, I came to this decision.

“So will I be sad after this? Of course. Do I feel sad sometimes, every day because of this? Yes. Yes, it took time because the kid inside me never wants to stop. If given a chance to play for his country, never,” he shared in the video.

Chhetri also encouraged the next generation of players to step up. “I think it’s time for India to find its next No. 9. It’s time we build on it. When I am not there, I am sure a lot of youngsters will step up. But they will need the time,” he emphasised.

During his illustrious career, Chhetri has been named AIFF Player of the Year seven times, with the most recent award coming in 2021-22. He retires as the most-capped player in the history of Indian football.

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