'Wasn't trying to be cheeky with Panenka' - Chhetri
It was the Panenka, the second part of Sunil Chhetri's trilogy at the Kanteerava on Sunday night - the first hat-trick ever in the Indian Super League (ISL) playoffs - that grabbed headlines, as the Bengaluru FC (BFC) captain led his team to the ISL final with a 3-1 win over FC Pune City.
The chip was necessitated by familiarity with goalkeeper Vishal Kaith, Chhetri would tell ESPN later.
"In the Indian team, it's only Vishal and I that train in the end for penalties. It plays on your mind. You saw me in the last one [Chhetri's penalty against Mumbai City FC in a 3-1 win in January, where he went top-left corner], I am sure he saw the goal against Amrinder. I knew he would go one side," Chhetri explained.
"I just had to keep my calm, because one voice in your head says, 'don't do it'. It is not easy if you chip and he catches it. You'll be the villain for life, no matter what you do. You will be remembered as the one who was trying to be cheeky. I wasn't trying to be cheeky, I wanted a goal, and I knew this was the way that the probability of getting a goal was maximum."
There seemed to be a word of commiseration for Kaith, alongside a cheeky grin, at the end of the penalty, but Chhetri said he was merely looking for the rebound. "I saw he [Kaith] was almost standing up -- it was so slow. It was so slow that I went for the rebound. Udanta [Singh] came and, even though he is more than ten years younger, just gave me some choice words, like 'bhai (brother), what the...'"
Udanta was no less of an influence on the night, working tirelessly in both defence and attack for his team. It was Udanta who initiated the move that led to Chhetri's goal, also supplying him with the cross that he headed in for a somewhat fortuitous opener. Pune defender Adil Khan was effusive in his praise of both Chhetri and Udanta.
"He [Chhetri] is one of the best footballers in India right now, and he's doing so great even now, when he is almost at the end of his career. He's keeping himself fit, and I'm trying to learn from him and keeping myself fit as well," Adil said.
"Udanta is also a very speedy player. He'll be like Chhetri bhai in the future. If he keeps himself fit, he can be a future Chhetri for India."
For Chhetri, Sunday was all about working hard as a team, knowing the 0-0 draw in Pune earlier in the week was just not enough, especially against a team as balanced as Pune.
"When you know [Austrian midfielder Marko] Stankovic can pick a pass, and Marcelinho and [Emiliano] Alfaro who can score goals anytime, [Jonatan] Lucca scored with that free-kick; that's the kind of talent they had," he said. "We had to work hard as a team and defend. That's the reason we didn't see all attack from Bengaluru, but we had to because Pune are a good side. We had to come back and defend, all of us."
Carrying the match ball, signed by all of his team-mates, as a souvenir for the hard-earned win, Chhetri trained his sights on the final on Saturday, where one of the two 2015 finalists, Chennaiyin FC or FC Goa, await.
"We have some niggles, we want to recover well. [We have] a very nagging and tricky AFC Cup game [against Dhaka Abahani] on the 14th. It is the final round, and it depends on the coach, but thankfully we have a very able team. No matter who plays, we will be dominant at home."