Sunil Chhetri became only the third captain in Indian football to lead the country in two editions of the Asian Games when he led his team against China in their opening game at Hangzhou 2023.
Only Sailen Manna (1951 and 1954) and Bhaichung Bhutia (2002 and 2006) are the other two to have done so in the past, with Manna winning the gold medal in the inaugural edition of the Asian Games.
Chhetri, who is also the leading goalscorer of India in international football, is the seniormost player in the Asian Games squad, with Chinglensana Singh and Sandesh Jhingan being the other two seniors (over 24 years of age) in the team.
Indian football is returning to the Asian Games after nine years after it earned clearance under a special recommendation by the Sports Ministry. It is also the first Asiad for men’s team coach, Igor Stimac, who has maintained that the team ‘give their all’ in the tournament.
Sailen Manna (1951, 1954)
The Mohun Bagan legend made history when he led India to the gold medal in New Delhi. India beat Indonesia and Afghanistan to reach the final where it pipped Asian heavyweight, Iran, 1-0 in the final. Manna, a centre-back, had immense influence in the defence line, with the team winning all matches with clean sheets.
The 1954 edition, however, saw India win only one match in the tournament, beating Japan 3-2, as it was eliminated in the group stage. Indonesia, which had lost to India in 1951, was the team to qualify from its group.
Bhaichung Bhutia (2002, 2006)
Bhaichung Bhutia scored four times three games at the 2002 Asian Games, with India beating Bangladesh and Turkmenistan in the group stages. But a loss to China saw its hopes of qualification into the round of 16 go crashing down as the Blue Tigers made a group-stage exit in South Korea.
More to follow.