Best of Sunil Chhetri's century: 22 countries, 3 hat-tricks, countless memories
Sunil Chhetri became the first Indian footballer to make 100 international appearances as India beat Kenya 3-0 in the Intercontinental Cup in Mumbai on Monday. (Note: Former captain Bhaichung Bhutia also featured in over a 100 games, but 11 of them in age-group matches)
Here are some of the interesting numbers from Chhetri's century of games.
The number of hat-tricks recorded by Chhetri, the most by an Indian footballer. His third came in the Intercontinental Cup opener against Chinese Taipei on Friday, June 1, taking him past Appalaraju and IM Vijayan, the only other Indians with two hat-tricks. He also scored a hat-trick against Tajikistan in 2008, and against Vietnam in a home friendly in 2010, the latter snapping his longest sequence of seven matches for India without a goal.
Chhetri has captained India in 41 matches, beginning with an AFC Challenge Cup match against Chinese Taipei in Kuala Lumpur in March 2011, and that's also the number of opposition nations he has now faced. He has scored 27 of his 61 goals with the armband, captaining India to two international titles -- the Nehru Cup in New Delhi in 2012, and the SAFF Championships in Thiruvananthapuram in 2016.
The number of teams that Chhetri has scored against when facing them for the first time. The sequence began with his debut, in a friendly in Quetta against Pakistan in 2005, when he scored in a 1-1 draw. In all, Chhetri has 23 goals in 17 matches against opposition he has faced for the first time.
Sunil Chhetri holds the joint record for most goals by an Indian at the AFC Asian Cup finals, with two goals scored during his first Asian Cup campaign with India in 2011. Inder Singh had also scored two goals -- against South Korea and Hong Kong -- during India's runners-up finish behind hosts Israel at the tournament's third edition in 1964. Four other Indians have one goal each in the continental competition, where Chhetri is expected to lead the Indian attack again in January 2019.
The number of matches Chhetri has played against Nepal, his most frequent opponents, in his international career. He has five goals against them, featuring in four wins and just one defeat in 2013. Among countries to have qualified for at least one World Cup, Chhetri has met UAE on two occasions, and faced the rest just once each -- Australia, Cameroon, Iran, Japan, North Korea, South Korea and Trinidad & Tobago. Of these opponents, the only two he has scored one goal apiece against are Cameroon and South Korea.
Chhetri has played opposition teams in 22 different countries outside of India, with 42 cities as venues among these countries. He has scored 14 of his goals in these 42 matches, and his conversion rate has been significantly better since the start of 2017, with two goals in three matches. His favourite venue, numerically, remains New Delhi, where he has 19 goals from 23 appearances. Interestingly, his last match in Delhi was in September 2012, when he scored in India's 2-2 draw against Cameroon in the Nehru Cup final, eventually won by India on penalties.
The number of winning tournament finals that Chhetri has featured in, out of a total of eight. Chhetri has six goals in tournament finals, including a hat-trick in the AFC Challenge Cup final in New Delhi against Tajikistan in 2008, and India have always won the finals in which he has scored. Chhetri has faced Afghanistan in three finals and Syria in two. His only two defeats came against Maldives in the 2008 SAFF final, and against Afghanistan in 2013 in the same tournament.
(With inputs by Gautam Roy, football historian and media manager of East Bengal football club.)