'Cometh the hour, cometh the man' - These words are apt to describe a certain Sunil Chhetri after the Bengaluru FC skipper came up with another superlative performance to propel Bengaluru FC into the final of the Indian Super League (ISL).
The 33-year-old notched a hat-trick as Bengaluru won 3-1 in the second leg on Sunday and are just one step away from winning the title in their maiden ISL campaign.
Given that the first leg had finished goalless, it was imperative that Bengaluru scored on Sunday. And very few would have bet against Chhetri finding the back of the net in what was a huge game for the team.
For Sunil Chhetri is the ultimate big game player. He has been doing the same for Bengaluru for quite a while now. The most famous of which till now was the long-range effort in the AFC Cup semifinal against Johor Darul Ta'zim in 2016. In fact, he had scored Bengaluru's equaliser as well on the night with a header from Eugeneson Lyngdoh's corner, in what was a 3-1 win in the second leg at home.
He also has produced several such memorable moments for the national team as well.
Quite simply put, Chhetri is a player who relishes the limelight and grandeur that only a big match brings. That is not to say he does not perform otherwise. He has an enviable scoring record for Bengaluru FC in all their five seasons so far and has 13 strikes so far this campaign
On Sunday, Chhetri netted a hat-trick, yes! But it was not just about the goals. The Indian national team skipper was the difference between the sides.
He was deployed in a free role alongside Miku up front, rather than his customary position down the left wing. That turned out to be an inspired choice by Albert Roca as Chhetri dictated proceedings.
He did not have Adil Khan sticking tight to him and he found plenty of freedom down the middle. His ability to turn in tight spaces and positional sense came to the fore in Bengaluru's first goal. In a quick counter, Udanta fed Chhetri up front who kept the ball well, turned his marker and released Udanta down the right again. Then he had the presence of mind to gallop into the box and meet Udanta's poorly stood up cross.
Of course, he was a bit fortunate that Kaith and Gurtej made a hash of that header and it went into the net. But it was no less than what he deserved. Chhetri is a hard man to mark during set-piece situations despite his short stature and almost saw an improvised header go just wide.
He would then go on to win the second penalty, forget the manner in which it was scored. But one has to admit, it takes supreme confidence to pull off a panenka in a crucial game though very risky.
Of course, the third goal was a classic counter-attack with Chhetri peeling off his marker to latch on to a ball over the defence and just slotting past Kaith with relative ease.
He has been coming up with the goods in important moments for so long now that it has almost become customary to expect Chhetri to score in such games. On Sunday at the Kanteerava, the Blues' skipper just added another page to his ever-growing list of achievements!