India's leading goalscorer Sunil Chhetri on the cusp of breaking Pele's record

The Indian striker has scored 77 goals for his country already...

By Samrat Chkaraborty
Picture by All India Football Federation

If one takes a look at India's performances in the ongoing SAFF Championship, it won't come as a surprise that both of India's two goals at the tournament so far have been scored by none other than captain Sunil Chhetri.

The 37-year-old has been a talismanic presence in the team for so long, coming up with goals whenever it mattered. That was the case last Sunday as well when it looked like Igor Stimac's men were heading for a chastening draw against neighbours and footballing minnows Nepal.

But Chhetri popped up on the right spot inside the penalty box to volley in a cushioned header from Farukh Chowdhury. The goal not only gave India all three points but also likely saved India from a possible elimination.

He was also on target for India in the first game of the tournament against Bangladesh, with the game finishing 1-1.

His two goals in the SAFF Championship has also taken his international tally to 77 goals. Incredibly, he is the joint third-highest active international goalscorer in the world right now, with only two greats ahead of him - Cristiano Ronaldo (112) and Lionel Messi (80).

With 77 goals to his name, Chhetri is currently level with UAE's Ali Mabkhout and Brazilian legend Pele who many consider as the greatest footballer of all time.

Pele, who won three World Cups for Brazil (1958, 1962 and 1970), was one of the very first global superstars of the game and to go past such a legend's tally will be an honour for the Indian captain.

Football legend Pele was in India with the New York Cosmos side for a friendly against Mohun Bagan. Photo: Mohun Bagan/ Twitter

Though there is a difference between the level of opponents against whom Pele and Chhetri have played, Chhetri would be motivated to get that 78th goal.

Chhetri, who has played for Sporting Lisbon's B team in the past, will lead India again on Wednesday as they take on Maldives in their final group game of the SAFF Championship, eyeing a spot in the final.

India have to win against the hosts in order to qualify for the finals and will hope Chhetri will fire on all cylinders to keep their quest for an eighth SAFF title alive.