The past few weeks have been fairytale-like for India captain Sunil Chhetri. He played his 100th international game for the country, saw a massive turnout in the game, scored a brace in the final and then lifted the title amid lots of fanfare at the Mumbai Football Arena on Sunday. The 2-0 win over Kenya helped India beat them for a second time in the tournament and bag the four-nation tournament.
Chhetri and team, following the win, stayed on to the pitch till the very end to thank the fans for coming out. He was head and shoulders ahead of the rest in charging up the fans as they rallied to his applauds. With thousands in attendance, Chhetri dedicated the win to them while acknowledging its a “very long road” with India working their way towards the Asia Cup next year.
In a tweet, he wrote, “What a feeling! Thank you, India! This win is for the fans who filled the stands, cheered from home and backed and believed in us. The boys and staff pulled together and now it’s time to enjoy. We regroup soon because the road is long – very long. #Champions.”
India had opened the campaign in the Intercontinental Cup with a 5-0 thrashing of Chinese Taipei where Chhetri scored a hat-trick. But in front of a half empty stadium, Chhetri and India’s performance was hardly captured by the fans. That is when the talismanic player took to Twitter and asked for encouragement from the fans. From then on, many on social media added further weight on that appeal by encouraging more people to make a trip to the stadium and witness the team in action. The impact was immediate – nearly 8,000 fans thronged the stadium as Chhetri played his 100th game and India beat Kenya 3-0.
In the third game, the Blue Tigers produced a demoralised display and looked out of sorts which is all that New Zealand needed to beat the hosts 2-1. But India had done enough to beat qualify for the final – which India went on to win with rather ease.
Chhetri also created a record of becoming the first Indian to score in every match of a tournament twice – SAFF Cup in 2011 and Intercontinental Cup.