Sunil Chhetri full of gratitude in his heart ahead of swansong in Kolkata

Blue Tigers arrive ahead of schedule for crunch Fifa 2026 Qualifier against Kuwait on 6 June

Sunil Chhetri (left) and Igor Stimac on the Blue Tigers' arrival in Kolkata. (Photo: AIFF)
Sunil Chhetri (left) and Igor Stimac on the Blue Tigers' arrival in Kolkata. (Photo: AIFF)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

The anticipation for Sunil Chhetri’s final international match on 6 June went up a notch as the Blue Tigers were accorded a warm welcome in Kolkata on Wednesday afternoon, 29 May. They will take on Kuwait in the second round FIFA World Cup 2026 Qualifier at the Salt Lake Stadium – where full points will see them take a giant leap to reach a first-ever third round.

No prizes for guessing that the spotlight was on the man of the moment as a motley crowd gathered at the airport, comprising fans, media and Indian Football Association officials received the squad after their preparatory camp in Bhubaneswar. This is the city where Chhetri, now 39 and the third-highest goalscorer in international football (94 goals from 150 games) among active footballers after only Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi, took baby steps in professional football two decades back.

As the D-day is drawing near, Chhetri feels he is overcome by a feeling of gratitude as they will now embark on the final week of practice in Kolkata ahead of the game from Thursday (30 May).

In an emotional post on his social media handles, Sunil Chhetri says: “These last few days, I’ve been caught in a bit of a dilemma. Now that there’s a number to my days with the national team, what’s the right route to take – do I count every day, every training session? Or do I simply turn up without the thought of how this is coming to an end?

“Over time, I seemed to have found the middle ground. They say count your blessings. And every single day I get to be on the pitch is a blessing that I’ve never taken for granted,” Sunil Chhetri wrote, adding: “So I’ve decided to count my sessions but with a deep sense of gratitude. There’s no apprehension but there’s a feeling of being indebted to the sport, to my team, that I get to do this.

“If I can, I will capture this feeling in a box. Or instead, I’ll take it to my next training session.”

The Number 11 and the 27-member squad brought forward their date of assembling in Kolkata instead of 2 June while head coach Igor Stimac made no bones about how much he would bank on the crowd support in the football city. It was at his insistence that the All India Football Federation (AIFF) zeroed in on Kolkata for the crucial home game – much like the way a passionate crowd egged them on to qualify for the finals of the Asian Cup in 2022.

‘’Having in mind the importance of the game - with us being perhaps only a win away from qualifying for the third round for the first time and it being Sunil Chhetri’s farewell game - we expect the Salt Lake Stadium to be packed. I am sure that our supporters will reach Kolkata from all parts of India to help our boys win the game and say thanks and goodbye to Sunil. I am very confident it’s going to be emotional and hopefully, we will find a way to celebrate together after the final whistle,’’ Stimac said earlier this week.

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