India football team delivers after fans respond to appeal

Sunil Chhetri India

AIFF Media

Second-half goals from Captain Sunil Chhetri who played his landmark 100th global match for the Blue Tigers and Jeje Lalpekhlua helped India to 3-0 victory over Harambee stars at the Mumbai Football Arena in Mumbai. Now, he is only behind Ronaldo (81 goals) and Messi (64 goals) in terms of global goals.

Not only did Chhetri score a brace, India's sniper Jeje Lalpekhlua too joined the party with a handsome goal from a tight angle. The game started on a slow note due to heavy rain.

Chhetri's plea, which went viral on social media for all the right reasons, has done the trick as the tickets for India's second match of the quadrennial tournament against Kenya, scheduled for Monday, June 4, have been sold out. India cricket captain Virat Kohli was the first to support Chettri, urging sports lovers to come forward and watch the national football side play, in an instagram post.

Stars will now need to win their final round-robin match against Chinese Taipei on Friday to book a slot in Sunday's final after starting off their campaign with a 2-1 win over New Zealand on Saturday.

"All the fans, who came out in Mumbai to support us".

"Agreed, the level is not the same, not even close but with our desire and determination, we will try our best to make your time worth it".

"It is not fun to criticise and abuse on the internet, come to the stadium and do it on our face. Those in the stands shouting, and the ones at home cheering - thank you!", Chhetri's tweet read.

"But, I'm making this video not for you guys, I'm going to speak, appeal and request all of you, who did not come. This was something special", said the 33-year-old Chhetri.

The 9,000-odd crowd went up in unison as Chhetri scored the opening goal in the 68th minute via a penalty and then found the net in injury time.

Chhetri, who was playing his 100th worldwide match, thanked his fans for responding to his plea to support football in India.

Cricket is hugely popular in India and is often blamed for overshadowing other sports like football and hockey.

Soon after, Chhetri won a controversial penalty as replays showed Kenyan defender Michael Kibwage bringing him down just outside the box. He is both the most-capped player and all-time top goal scorer for Indian national team. He was signed by the Kansas City Wizards of Major League Soccer in 2010, becoming the third player from the subcontinent of note to go overseas. Thousands arrived to see how India would play with them in the stadium and the Blue Tigers responded with a massive roar. This time he was signed by Sporting Clube de Portugal of the Primeira Liga where he played for the club's reserve side.

He overtook American Clint Dempsey to draw level with Spanish star David Villa on the list. Chhetri has now scored 61 goals in 100 global games and is third on the list of top goalscorers in the world among active footballers.

Things are looking up on the pitch, however, as India will play at the expanded 2019 Asian Cup finals in the United Arab Emirates after missing out in Australia three years ago.

And icing on the cake was Chhetri's two goals in his team's 3-0 win.

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