By Rajarshi Chakrabarty
At 33, Sunil Chhetri is not quickest around as the wrong side of 30 starts to take away a yard or two of pace, the magic starts to fade away and younger quicker opponents beat you for a chase or close you down in a flash.
But the name is Sunil Chhetri, India and Bengaluru FC’s talismanic skipper is showing no signs of slowing down as the striker hammered another hattrick in a big game against a tough and resolute NEROCA FC side in the Hero Super Cup quarter-final.
Chhetri showed his skills of being an elite poacher lurking at the right areas around the box, with his twinkling feet and pouring out his magic as he completed his hat-trick deep into the extra time with a swaggering show of force to take Bengaluru FC into the semi-final.
The first goal came in the 13th minute as Chhetri released Udata into open space down the right flank. Udanta delivered a whipping cross into the six-yard box as NEROCA FC keeper Lalit Thapa could only push it away but Chhetri was positioned perfectly between two defenders to bury the header into the back of the net.
NEROCA FC managed to restore parity and scored the important goal just at the stroke of halftime. Aryn Williams long ball from the freekick was not collected cleanly by Gurpreet and fell to Pritam Singh whose first shot bounced off the keeper but placed the ball into the goal in his second attempt to make it 1-1 in the stoppage time of first half.
Back in the second half, NEROCA threatened intermittently as Felix Odilli Chidi broke away into space during a couple of occasions but could not find the target.
It was Sunil Chhetri in the 55th minute showed his brilliant poaching skills as he timed his run perfectly to beat the offside trap to find himself in a one-on-one with the goalkeeper and headed it down nicely to put it past Lait Thapa, as Bengaluru FC went 2-1 up.
NEROCA almost found their moment in the 79th minute, when Ashok Singh’s cross found Chidi in the box but the striker failed to keep his header into the frame.
But the game belonged to Sunil Chhetri as showed his class and lethality as the 33-year-old still had the astute and hunger to make run into the box overcoming the tiredness and fatigue of playing in hot, humid conditions.
It was 94th minute on the clock and Chhetri still managed to get the run into the box as Toni Dovale laid it off for Chhetri into the box who shielded himself from the vision of the keeper behind his marker Gorimangi Singh to bury the ball at the back of the net.
3-1 to Bengaluru and Sunil Chhetri as the Bengaluru FC finds themselves at the business end of yet another tournament as they renew their rivalry with old foes Mohun Bagan in a mouth-watering semi-final encounter on 17th April 2018 at the Kalinga Stadium.