One last dance against Kuwait, India football icon Sunil Chhetri draws curtain on international career

One last dance against Kuwait, India football icon Sunil Chhetri draws curtain on international career
Image source: AIFF

New Delhi, India: Sunil Chhetri, a player who redefined the standards of Indian football, emerged as an inspiration not only for his nation but also in the international circuit, on Thursday decided to draw the curtains on his career with the Blue Tigers.

Chhetri took to X to announce his retirement from international football. He will have his last dance in Indian colours in front of the home fans at the Salt Lake Stadium on June 6 against Kuwait.

The 39-year-old posted a video on X in which he reminisced about his career which began in 2005 on June 12 against Pakistan in a friendly match.

"There is one day that I never forget and remember quite often is the first time I played for my country, man it was unbelievable. But the day before, the morning of the day, Sukhi sir, my first national team coach, in the morning he came to me and he's like, you're going to start? I can't tell you how I was feeling man. I took my jersey, I sprayed some perfume on it, I have no idea why. So that day, everything that happened, once he told me, from breakfast to lunch and the game and to my first goal in my debut, to conceding late 80th minute, that day is probably one that I will never forget and is one of the best days of my national team journey," Chhetri said in a social media post.

"I told my mom, my dad and my wife, my family first, my dad, he was normal, he was relieved, happy, everything, but my mom and my wife started crying and I told them, you always used to bug me that there are too many games, there is too much of pressure when you watch me and now that I'm telling you that, you know, I'm not going to play for my country anymore after this game. And even they couldn't, they couldn't express to me as to why they, they burst into tears. It's not that I was feeling tired, it's not that I was feeling this or that when the instinct came that this should be my last game, then I thought about it a lot," Chhetri concluded.

Sunil Chhetri kicked off his professional football journey at Mohun Bagan in 2002. Chhetri helped India win the 2007, 2009, and 2012 Nehru Cup, as well as the 2011, 2015, 2021 and 2023 SAFF Championship. He also led India to victory in the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup, which helped India qualify for its first AFC Asian Cup in 27 years.

Chhetri received the Arjuna Award in 2011, and the Padma Shri in 2019. In 2021, he became the first footballer to get the Khel Ratna Award, India's highest sporting honour.

In a career that spanned over 19 years, the Arjuna Award winner has 94 goals in 150 matches on the international stage. The most-capped Indian footballer is the third-highest goal-scorer on the global stage with icons Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi ahead of him.