Bhaichung, Jeje, Eugeneson the best I have played with: Sunil Chhetri

Sunil Chhetri, the captain of India, takes a walk down memory lane and picks his favourites from the various editions of the SAFF Championship that he has been a part of.

Captain Sunil Chhetri represented India in a SAFF Championship match in 2009. On the eve of his fifth edition of the regional tournament, the Delhiite takes a memory down the lane and picks his favourites from the past four editions he had played for the country.

India will begin their campaign on October 4 against Bangladesh.

Excerpts

On his favourite SAFF Championship: Chhetri picked the 2016 Thiruvananthapuram edition held in Kerala. He recollected the rivalry with Afghanistan in the final and the build-up “was simply majestic”. At least 40,000 cheered India in the final. “That will always stay with me. After Robin Singh got injured in the first match itself, we were left with just 19 players and went on to lift the title with a young team,” reminiscences Bhutia.

His favourite goal so far: Jeje’s (Lalpekhlua) goal in the final against Afghanistan also in Thiruvananthapuram. It was a tough match and India were trailing 0-1. It was sublime, the manner the “superstar” scored was extremely significant. And the goal 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,” he told the-aiff.com.

Toughest match: “There have been quite a few but the one against Nepal in 2013 Kathmandu edition stands apart. 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 so far.”

Most lethal Indian player: Bhaichung (Bhutia)

Players he admired on and off the field: Again Bhaichung-da and Jeje (Lalpekhlua). With Eugeneson Lyngdoh, despite playing for a very short time,” I am extremely fond of him, and we are very close. But then I am close to everyone.”

Favourite player in the region: Ali Ashfaq, 36, Maldivian player who according to Chhetri has been “extraordinary, deadly when he has the ball at his feet”.

India have lifted the SAFF Championship (formerly SAARC Cup) seven times: 1993 (Lahore), 1997 (Kathmandu), 1999 (Margao), 2005 (Karachi), 2009 (it was a competition for U-23 squads in Dhaka), 2011 (New Delhi), 2016 (Thiruvananthapuram).

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