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Playing against Chinese Taipei in the Intercontinental Cup football in Mumbai on Friday night, Sunil Chhetri scored a hattrick in India’s emphatic 5-0 win. Football fans in India and across the world immediately sat up and took note of the feat that the Indian football captain and striker had just achieved.
This added up to 59 goals for Chhetri in his 99th appearance for India, and put him at number 3 in the list of most international goals scored by a footballer who is still active. Only two players are ahead of him on this count now – Lionel Messi with 61 goals for Argentina (124 matches) and Cristiano Ronaldo with a mind-boggling 81 goals for Portugal’s national football team (149 matches).
The 33-year-old Chhetri shares the no 3 spot with David Villa who has played the same number of matches, 99, for the Spanish national team. They are followed by Clint Demsey of the United States with 57 goals and Neymar Jr of Brazil with 53.
The Indian striker had reached the fourth position on this list in June last year, overtaking England’s Wayne Rooney.
There were no wild celebrations after he scored his third international hattrick, becoming the only Indian to do so. But the man of the moment was undoubtedly Sunil Chhetri, who is all set to play his 100th international match, against Kenya, on Monday. Only former footballer Bhaichung Bhatia has played more than 100 matches for India so far with 104 caps for the country.
Chhetri, who captains Bengaluru FC in the Indian Soccer League (ISL), made his domestic debut playing for Mohun Bagan in 2002. He later moved to JCT, Punjab, and made his mark as a striker with this club. He has also played for Goa’s Dempo and Churchill Brothers.
He made his international debut against Pakistan in June 2005. He won the All India Football Federation (AIFF) Player of the Year Award 2007 after a great season which saw India win the Nehru Cup. He went on to receive this award three more times.
He scored his first international hattrick against Tajikstan in the final of the AFC Challenge Cup in 2008. He scored his second hattrick against Vietnam in Pune in 2010.
Sunil Chhetri was part of the Kansas City Wizards in the American Major Soccer League in 2010. He also had a brief stint with Sporting Lisbon ‘B’ in 2012.
The Indian captain had made it to the 2017 Forbes India Celebrity 100 list and was one of 21 sportspersons and the only footballer to have done so. Indian cricket captain Virat Kohli was the top-ranked sports celebrity in the list and was featured at number 3, behind Bollywood superstars Salman Khan and Shahrukh Khan.
In November last year, he married Sonam Bhattacharya, daughter of former Mohun Bagan and India star Subroto Bhattacharya who also happens to be his mentor.