From sliding in mud to towering headers: 15 best moments from Sunil Chhetri's 15 years for India

Sunil Chhetri completes 15 years as an India international on June 12, having made his debut on this day in a 2005 friendly against Pakistan in Quetta. When he completed 100 caps a couple of years ago, he shared his five favourite games for the country, but which moments from his career stand out? We pick our favourite 15.

15. Swinging in the mud

India vs UAE, World Cup qualifier, New Delhi, July 2011

Chhetri didn't score in the 2-2 draw on a slushy surface at the Ambedkar Stadium, but his contribution was massive. UAE had pummelled India 3-0 in Al Ain less than a week before, and new coach Armando Colaco had two players sent off, including goalkeeper Subrata Pal. In the return leg, Chhetri's running and industry made it possible for India to hold on for a draw.

14. A brace in vain

India vs Tajikistan, Intercontinental Cup, Ahmedabad, July 2019

Chhetri's most recent memorable performance came at the Intercontinental Cup opener against Tajikistan last year. This was Igor Stimac's first major event at home, and for a change India had called up formidable opponents in North Korea, Syria and Tajikistan, their opponents on the opening day. India let the advantage slip after a feisty first half, with Chhetri leading with two goals, including a penalty. They finished fourth in the tournament, but the first 45 minutes held promise of what India could do if all their departments clicked in a game.

13. Lone fighter in an uphill battle

Lebanon vs India, World Cup qualifier, Saida, October 2007

India lost 4-1, and eventually 6-3 on aggregate, during the 2010 WC qualification, but Chhetri gave a glimpse of how he would come to lead the attack with his performance away in the first leg. Bob Houghton's India, having won the Nehru Cup for the first time in history earlier that year, came in with a disciplined counter-attacking mindset, and Chhetri scored on the half-hour mark to put India ahead. Lebanon were able to overturn that comfortably, but Chhetri would score again in the return leg, drawn 2-2.

12. The goal that started a terrific run

Cambodia vs India, friendly, Phnom Penh, March 2017

Stephen Constantine's second run with the Indian team was notable for a sequence of results between 2016 and 2018, that saw India eventually breach the top 100 of the FIFA rankings after more than 20 years. The belief into the team came in after a hard-fought 3-2 win away to Cambodia, India's first away win in an international outside of the South Asian (SAFF) region in 12 years. Chhetri's contribution was the opening goal -- more a case of poor goalkeeping, where a corner landed at his lap right through the keeper's gloves.

11. A memorable night in Mumbai

India vs Puerto Rico, friendly, Mumbai, September 2016

India's ascent up the rankings began with a 4-1 drubbing of Puerto Rico, also the first time that the Mumbai Football Arena hosted the national team. Chhetri was at his best through the night, scoring with a free kick and setting up goals for Narayan Das and Jeje Lalpekhlua.

10. Two moments of magic, as a star is born

India vs Cambodia, Nehru Cup, New Delhi, August 2007

Houghton's time as India coach was punctuated by a fair amount of success for the national team, beginning at the 2007 Nehru Cup, and culminating with their first Asian Cup finals appearance in 27 years. The seeds of that campaign were sown at the Ambedkar Stadium, against a young Cambodia team. Playing alongside Bhaichung Bhutia, Chhetri showed his finishing quality in the second half, following a chip from 30 yards out with a first-time header cushioned into the corner. All inside a span of three minutes.

9. An important statement to make

India vs Afghanistan, SAFF Cup final, Thiruvananthapuram, January 2016

India went into the 2015-16 SAFF Cup under a bit of pressure, having lost the previous final to a rapidly improving Afghanistan. The Afghans took the lead, but India took the game to extra-time. Enter Chhetri. In the 101st minute, he had the legs to chase a hastily taken free kick into the Afghanistan box, ride out a physical challenge from the centre back, and squeeze in a tight shot past the onrushing goalkeeper.

8. Marking his century in style

India vs Kenya, Intercontinental Cup, Mumbai, June 2018

Chhetri went into his 100th match for India on the back of good form, having struck his third international hat trick against Chinese Taipei. He opened the scoring with a second-half penalty, then helped set Jeje up for the second. He rounded it off with a chip over the keeper, in a sign of things to come against a competent opposition that didn't quite learn how to cope with him.

7. Beating Kenya again

India vs Kenya, Intercontinental Cup final, Mumbai, June 2018

Six days on, the teams met in the final, and Chhetri was the difference again. He opened the scoring by pulling away from the penalty area scramble off a dead ball, and whacked the ball into the net. He scored his second by picking up a long clearance from Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and tapping it past the keeper. It was just the second time an Indian had scored in every match in an international tournament, right up to the final.

6. A late goal that defined Bob Houghton's era

India vs Myanmar, AFC Challenge Cup semi final, Hyderabad, August 2008

When India met Myanmar in the semis of the AFC Challenge Cup, what was at stake was not just a place in the final, but also possibly Bob Houghton's team's best chance to rejoin the Asian elite. India had been scrapping through the tournament, led by Bhaichung Bhutia up front, but Chhetri made his mark in this game. Playing in terrible underfoot conditions, he headed in from a Bhutia assist to take India through to the final.

5. Making his mark

Pakistan v India, friendly, Quetta, June 2005

Chhetri was a surprise inclusion for technical director Sukhwinder Singh on his maiden trip with the senior team. He would justify his selection with a goal, though Pakistan would score to draw level. It was an auspicious beginning, nonetheless.

4. A tougher road to the Nehru Cup

India vs Cameroon, Nehru Cup final, New Delhi, September 2012

India were two-time defending champions of the Nehru Cup, when the event shifted from the compact Ambedkar Stadium to the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. Cameroon weren't at full strength, in fact, only five of their starters from the final would go on to make more regular places in the full side, but they were good. India were trailing 2-1 on 54 minutes, but Chhetri yanked them back into the contest with a late goal. He then converted as India won the shootout 5-4.

3. That run and that chase

India vs Kyrgyzstan, Asian Cup qualifiers, Bengaluru, June 2017

Chhetri had already provided India their only goal in a scrappy 1-0 win against Myanmar away to begin their campaign. That bid to reappear at the AFC Asian Cup finals got a new boost at the Kanteerava Stadium in a game where Kyrgyzstan were actually dominating. Chhetri picked the ball up from inside his half, scythed through the back-tracking midfield, gave the ball through to Jeje and sprinted in to pick up the return pass and smacked it into the net.

2. Back among the best

India vs Thailand, AFC Asian Cup, Abu Dhabi, January 2019

It ended with disappointment, and a sense of what could have been, but India's campaign at the 2019 Asian Cup couldn't have gotten off to a better start. Chhetri started it all with a quickly taken throw, from which Ashique Kuruniyan earned a penalty, which Chhetri converted. Though Thailand would equalise before half time, the second half belonged to an energetic India. Chhetri characterised that energy, scoring one of three peerless Indian goals in 45 minutes that made the world sit up and take notice.

1. A historic hat trick

India vs Tajikistan, AFC Challenge Cup final, New Delhi, August 2008

Chhetri has three hat tricks for India, but none was as significant as the first. Chhetri and Bhutia helped demolish Tajikistan in a 23-minute burst to put India 3-0 ahead, from which their opponents never recovered. For Chhetri, who added a third goal for himself in the 75th minute, it was the perfect storm -- a big tournament in the city he grew up in, with family watching. It took India back to the Asian Cup for the first time since 1984, and was perhaps the high point of Houghton's stint between 2006 and 2011.