It’s been 13 years since Sunil Chhetri first appeared for India in a SAFF Championship match. Since then, he has been part of the Blue Tigers in four editions, with the forthcoming Championship (set to kick-off tomorrow October 1 – India begin their campaign on October 4) being his fifth one. In a candid chat, Sunil takes a walk down memory lane and picks up his favourites from editions of the Championship that he has been a part of.
Which has been your favourite SAFF Championship so far?
I will pick the one which we won in Kerala in the 2015-16 edition. The rivalry that we had with Afghanistan in the final, and the build-up to it was simply majestic. It is also because we had a lot of youngsters in the squad, and won it with just 19 players after Robin Singh got injured in the first match itself. Over 40,000 people turned up to cheer for us in the final. That will always stay with me.
Which has been your favourite goal from all the editions in which you have played so far?
Jeje’s (Lalpekhlua) goal in the final against Afghanistan in 2015-16 in Thiruvananthapuram will always be my favourite. It was an extremely tough match, and we were 0-1 down despite having some good chances. The goal was extremely significant, and the manner the superstar flicked it in was sublime. Most importantly, it came at the right moment. If we hadn’t scored then, maybe we would have panicked and the result could have been different. We eventually went on to win 2-1.
Which are the toughest matches which you have played in the SAFF Championship?
There have been quite a few. But if you ask me to pick a specific one, then it has to be the one which we played against Nepal in Kathmandu in the 2013 edition. It was a group stage match, and we lost 1-2 in front of a full house. It was noisy, and it has been my toughest match in the Championship so far.
Who has been the most lethal Indian player that you have played with in the Championship?
That’s a really difficult one to answer as there have been many. But I will go for Bhaichung-da, and I don’t need to explain it. His name itself is self-explanatory.
With whom have you shared the best relationship on and off the field?
As I have played with so many players, it has kept changing. But I am quite fortunate with whom I have enjoyed my relationship on and off the field. If I stick purely on the pitch, I will pick up Bhaichung-da (Bhutia) and Jeje (Lalpekhlua), and it has more to do with my combination and understanding with them.
But if it’s a mix, and the proximity which we share then it has to be Eugeneson Lyngdoh. Despite him playing for a very short time, I am extremely fond of him, and we are very close. But then I am close to everyone.
Who has been your favourite player in the SAFF region?
We as a nation have been very dominant in the SAFF Championships. But if I am not to mention any from my country, I will always vote for Ali Ashfaq. He has been extraordinary, deadly when he has the ball at his feet.