India’s football captain Sunil Chhetri matched Lionel Messi’s record after his 80th international goal against Nepal during their SAFF Championship final on Saturday (16th October). During this game, India took the victory 3-0 to record their eighth title, with Chhetri opening the scoring surge for them in the second half. This was Chhetri’s fifth goal in the many outing that this captain has presented the Blue Tigers, helping them finish on top of the scoring table.

The 37-year-old Indian player has equalled Messi’s feat, making him the second-highest-ranking goal-scorer in International soccer among active players. Chhetri opened India’s goal-scoring surge in the 49th minute before Suresh Singh recorded the second goal in the 50th minute. Sahal Abdul Samad sealed the win for India in the 90th minute, sealing the win for them in this historic game.

Indian sports minister Anurag Thakur was impressed with Chhetri’s achievement in the game and he congratulated him for matching Messi’s feat. Speaking through his official Twitter handle, the minister said that India’s win of their 8th SAFF Championships title this year scripts history alongside Chhetri equaling Lionel Messi’s record of 80 goals in international football.

During the game, the Blue Tigers dominated the possession during the first half, but couldn’t manage to record any goal. However, Captain Chhetri put the Blue Tigers ahead a few minutes after the break, and even before Nepal could settle down, Singh doubled their advantage to 2-0. Sahal further tricked several defenders late into the second half after receiving the ball from the left flank towards the final whistle, making it 3-0.

This was the 12th SAFF Championship game for the Blue Tigers in 13 editions, showing their domination of the regional tournament. That shows that India is a strong team to wager on at when playing in the tournament as they have always thrived in the region.

The win was India’s first title win with head coach Igor Stimach, who took over India’s national team for two years starting from May 2019. The former Croatia national team manager has faced strong criticism in recent months due to the Blue Tigers’ inability to record enough wins, but he has remained strong in his quest to make the team great.

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After naming his squad of 25 players to travel to Nepal for back-to-back international friendlies earlier in September, Coach Igor was confident about India’s ability to take the SAFF Cup home if they played well. Fortunately, Igors men led by captain Chhetri impressed fans with their amazing gameplay, helping them set history thanks to their focus on winning the matches.

Earlier in the SAFF Cup, the Indian national team had to settle for a draw against Sr Lanka and Bangladesh, putting them fourth in the table. That saw many fans criticize Coach Igor’s leadership on the team, with many comparing him to former Coach Stephen Constantine – who helped India rank 100th in the 2017 FIFA rankings. Nonetheless, Coach Igor was still confident that his men would emerge victorious against Nepal and win the SAFF Cup.

Sunil Chhetri played a crucial role in India winning their eighth SAFF championship cup, striking five goals throughout the competition. However, the talismanic skipper credited his young brigade for India’s victory, despite surpassing the legendary Pele to bring his total goal count to 80 goals in international football.

Speaking after their victory, Chhetri said the win feels good for all the youngsters in the squad and the feat was all thanks to their hard work. Chhetri believes the youngsters made it special as they were very good in their first two games and it was tough for them to rise and play in such an incredible way. This was Chhetri’s third win in the SAFF Championship while playing for the team. The 37-year-old also won this regional tournament in 2015 and 2011.

In a later tweet Chhetri said his team had hoped to start the tournament in a better form and although it didn’t start the way they planned, it ended exactly how they had envisioned. Chhetri also heaped praises on the other goal scorers on Saturday’s game, saying that he enjoyed watching Suresh and Sahal showcase their talent. As such, the captain hopes the two will make such unbelievable moments a habit in their international career.

The Blue Tigers dedicated their SAFF trophy to their injured players, Brandon Fernandez and Farukh Choudhary, who couldn’t travel to the stadium. However, Glan Martins and Mandar Rao Dessar carried Brandon’s jersey to the grounds, while Rahul Bheke preferred wearing Farukh’s jersey at the victory podium.

According to Bheke, Brando and Farukh were part of the triumph in their own right and their contribution towards the victory will never go unnoticed. That explains why Bheke chose to wear Farukh’s jersey during the trophy celebrations.

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