Sunil Chhetri, the Indian men’s football team captain, achieved another major milestone in his decorated career as he overtook Brazilian legend Pele in the list of most international goals. In the last group match of the SAFF Championship 2021 against Maldives, Chhetri scored a brace to not only go beyond Pele but go joint-sixth. Chhetri is now just a place below Lionel Messi in the list. Chhetri now has 79 goals in 124 matches for India.
Chhetri is joint-sixth with Zambia’s Godfrey Chitalu, who has 79 goals in 111 games. The list is led by Cristiano Ronaldo with 115 goals in 182 matches. Second on the list is Iran’s Ali Daei, who has 109 goals to his name. Malaysia’s Mokhtar Dahari and Hungary/Spain’s Ferenc Puskas are third and fourth, respectively.
Ahead of the Maldives match, Chhetri was equal with Pele but courtesy his two valuable goals, he went up the list and took India to the final of the tournament.
It was a frantic start to the match in front of a partisan crowd that showed its support for the home side. India skipper Chhetri was alert to chances, and started chasing the Maldives defenders from early on.
He nearly created an opportunity with the pressure, as he won a tackle, before Suresh picked up a loose ball and was fouled outside the box. The resulting free-kick, however, crashed into the Maldives wall, and was soon cleared.
A little after the quarter-hour mark, Yasir took up a dangerous position and crossed it on from the right, but it was cleared for a corner. The resulting corner from Brandon took a bounce inside the box before Kotal headed it towards Chhetri. The India captain went for the jugular, as he attempted a back-volley, which was off target.
As the match neared the half-hour mark, Chhetri came close to scoring again, as he managed to get a powerful header off a Brandon free-kick. Agonisingly, though, for the Blue Tigers, the header thudded off the cross-bar.
Chhetri had a serious crack at goal near the hour mark, when a string of passes between Chinglensana, Lalengmawia, and Suresh ended up with the Indian skipper, whose shot went over.
Minutes later, it was Lalengmawia again, who played in a cross for Manvir. The lanky forward chested the ball into the path of Chhetri, who blasted it into the back of the net, to put India back in the lead.
Chhetri gave India the two-goal cushion in the 71st minute, when another aerial ball by Lalengmawia into the box was headed by the India skipper. His header looped over Mohamed Faisal and into the net.