India's Chhetri says farewell as Palestine eye World Cup landmark

Palestine need just a point against Lebanon in Doha to seal their place in the final round for the first time.

04 Jun 2024 02:06pm
Palestine’s Oday Dabbagh celebrates after scoring a goal against Hong Kong at the Abdullah Bin Khalifa Stadium in Doha Jan 24, 2024. - Photo by Berrnama
Palestine’s Oday Dabbagh celebrates after scoring a goal against Hong Kong at the Abdullah Bin Khalifa Stadium in Doha Jan 24, 2024. - Photo by Berrnama
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HONG KONG - Indian legend Sunil Chhetri will say farewell to international football on Thursday while Palestine are on the brink of reaching the final stage of Asian World Cup qualifying for the first time.

The 39-year-old skipper Chhetri has 94 goals in 150 appearances for India, behind only Cristiano Ronaldo, Iran's retired Ali Daei and Lionel Messi in the list of all-time international goal-scorers.

India's most-capped player announced last month that Thursday's home qualifier against Kuwait in Kolkata will be his international swansong, and he will want to go out with a bang.

Igor Stimac's side lie second in their group, behind already qualified Qatar, and can take a large step towards the third and final qualifying round for 2026 with victory.

With two games left and two nations to go through, the last qualifying berth from the group is wide open with India and Afghanistan level on four points and Kuwait on three.

"I feel privileged to have had a career like this," Chhetri told The Economic Times.

"When I started playing football, all of this was unthinkable.

"If I would have left for Europe when I was a 15-year-old, for example, I could have had a different kind of career," added Chhetri, who had a brief unsuccessful spell in Portugal more than a decade ago.

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"But when I now look back, I will not trade what I have got for anything in the world."

In other Asian qualifying matches for 2026 on Thursday, Palestine need just a point against Lebanon in Doha to seal their place in the final round for the first time.

Against the backdrop of war in Gaza, the Palestinian team has already claimed a piece of footballing history this year by making a debut appearance in the Asian Cup knockout phase.

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Many of the regional heavyweights have already progressed, among them Australia, Japan, Iran, Iraq and Uzbekistan.

Son Heung-min's South Korea have yet to join them, but they need just a point from their last two games -- at Singapore on Thursday and home to China five days later -- to be sure.

South Korea will be under a second interim boss since sacking Jurgen Klinsmann in February -- AFC Champions League-winning coach Kim Do-hoon.

The German lost his job after being knocked out in the semi-finals of the Asian Cup and the South Korean FA have been frustrated in their attempts to find a permanent successor.

China and Thailand are battling to join the Koreans as qualifiers from Group C.

China are second in the group and face the Thais at home knowing that victory will put them into the next phase but any other result could open the door to Thailand.

China coach Branko Ivankovic has not been able to name his strongest squad.

"The difficulties we face with injuries and suspensions cannot be used as an excuse," Chinese media quoted him as saying.

"We must make the most of the players we have available."

Graham Arnold's Australia have a perfect four wins and the coach can afford to tweak his line-up knowing that they have already progressed.

The Socceroos travel to Bangladesh on Thursday and then host Palestine, and Arnold is likely to give a first cap to exciting winger Nestory Irankunda.

The 18-year-old, who will join Bayern Munich this summer, is in the Australia squad for the first time and will add pace and unpredictability to a functional team that rarely thrills. - AFP

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