Mumbai: Inspirational India captain Sunil Chhetri scored a brace to put himself on a par with Lionel Messi and lead the home side to Intercontinental Cup title triumph with a 2-0 win over Kenya in the summit clash here on Sunday. And this, dear foota fans, has placed our Northeastern lad, at par with the famous Messi!
Playing in his 102nd international match, Chetri struck in the eighth and 29th minutes to hand a dominant India the trophy to the wild celebration of the home fans at the Mumbai Football Arena here.
The 33-year-old Chetri’s double strike capped a brilliant tournament which saw him score eight out of India’s 11 goals and put him on a par with Argentine superstar Messi. Both Chetri and Messi have scored 64 goals for their respective countries to be the joint second highest international goalscorer among active players.
Chetri, who was playing in his 102nd international match, and Messi are behind leader and Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo who has 81 goals from 150 matches. Chetri and Messi are currently in joint 21st in the all-time list of goal scorers. The Indian is just one goal below former Chelsea and Ivory Coast stalwart Didier Drogba (65 from 104 matches). In terms of number of goals per match, Chetri is better than Messi, arguably the best player in the world currently. Chetri has scored 0.62 goals per match as against 0.52 of Messi (64 goals from 124 matches).
Asked about his feat, Chetri said: “It’s unfair to compare myself with Messi and Cristiano. I am a big fan of both. They are superstars. I just want to score as many goals as possible for my country.”
Chetri gave India the lead off a set-piece, assisted by Anirudh Thapa. Kenyan defender Bernard Oginga gave away a silly free-kick to India for a high-boot on Chetri. The 20-year-old Thapa took the free-kick just outside the box and Chetri connected the ball into the left-corner of the net.
The talismanic India captain doubled the lead just before the half-hour mark. Anas Edathodika lobbed the ball to Chetri who controlled it nicely on his chest between Kenyan defenders Jockins Atudo and Micheal Kibwage before firing in a low left-footer from inside the box which gave absolutely no chance to keeper Patrick Matasi.
Chetri had a chance to make it 3-0 and score another hat-trick but he shot over the bar off a free-kick in the 43rd minute.
The star for India in the second half was their custodian Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, who ensured a clean sheet with some breathtaking saves. In the 46th minute came Kenya’s best chance. Ovella Ochieng took a shot from a distance but Gurpreet made a diving save and the rebound went over the bar.
Chances kept coming for Kenya, but they were not able to convert them. In the 60th minute, Ochieng launched another long-ranger but Gurpreet came to the rescue as he pushed the ball back to be cleared by his defenders.
Whenever it looked like Kenya had a chance, Gurpreet stood in their way. In the 76th minute, Ochieng hit from outside the box off a free-kick, but the India custodian palmed it away.
The Indian defence, which was shaky in their 1-2 loss against New Zealand, was solid on Sunday as they kept the Kenyan strikers at bay. Especially, Holicharan Nazary and Sandesh Jhingan were simply outstanding.