The cheeky genius of Sunil Chhetri helps Bengaluru FC beat Kerala Blasters

For all his struggles, though, there’s one thing about Chhetri that shines through. Complete, and utter belief in himself. Vipin Pawar/Focus Sports/ ISL

And Sunil Chhetri has won it.

If you've been in and around Indian football anytime in the past two decades, you've heard that sentence. Never in that time, though, would you have heard it in quite this context. And never before has it been so overshadowed by other events as it was yesterday.

It's crunch time in the first eliminator of this season's ISL and the clock reads 97:50. The score, Bengaluru FC 0 - 0 Kerala Blasters. Sunil Chhetri's been brought down by Vibin Mohanan about ten yards outside the Blasters penalty box.

Chhetri's been on the pitch for less than half an hour; coming on as a substitute in the 72nd minute. It's extra time on a warm Bengaluru night and everyone looks a bit worn out. Except Chhetri.

38 going on 39 now, he's been doing to the Blasters most of what he has always done -- bullying bigger defenders in the air, chasing down and pressing high up the pitch -- but many a time the body hasn't quite been on the same wavelength as the mind. For all that physical effort, you can see why he no longer starts for Bengaluru FC game-in and game-out. His first touch remains excellent, but there's a rare indecisiveness that's crept into the next few. Sample this: five minutes into extra time, he broke free on the right flank and with a 2 vs. 2 counter on, misplaced a fairly simple square ball to Roy Krishna in the middle. This never happens, not to India's best footballer... but it is happening.

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Chhetri stands over the dead ball and has a little chat with the referee. As he cocks his leg for a cheeky freekick attempt, Adrian Luna steps in to stop it. At this moment there are eight men in yellow standing around the D and the border of the penalty box. Two Bengaluru FC players (Roy Krishna and Rohit Kumar) are wandering forward into this sea of yellow. Prabsukhan Gill is off his line as he shouts at his defence to order themselves into a proper wall. Chhetri pulls out of the attempt at the last second, realising that Luna is blocking the angle. As he plants his right foot down on the pullout, Luna turns.

For all his struggles, though, there's one thing about Chhetri that shines through. Complete, and utter belief in himself. Missed a two-yard tap in? No worries, let's attempt the audacious long ranger. Messed up a fairly simple forward pass? Who cares, let's try an outside-of-the-boot ball through the proverbial eye of the needle.

That Luna turn? That's all the gap Chhetri needs. With very little backfift, he chips it powerfully, the ball sailing straight over Gill and into the middle of the net.

Quick imagination meets understanding of the laws of the game meets ability to execute a high-difficulty skill.

It happened so fast, so unexpectedly, that live TV coverage didn't even capture it. There was a gap that of the 22 men on the pitch only Chhetri saw, and he found a way to exploit it. It's the kind of constant-awareness that has made him the footballer he is today. What followed was chaos: anger, frustration, a sense of injustice translating into the Blasters walking out, led by the coach Ivan Vukomanovic.

Chhetri would later tell reporters that he always tried this, to test if the opposition was awake to the danger, that he had told the referee he didn't need a wall. "I always try to be cheeky," he said. "It's not the first time I've tried [this], because what happens is if somebody's not switched on..."

What happens is, he scores.

So once the chaos subsides and questions are answered (or at least given a cursory glance), the essence of this match will distil down to that one sentence all of Indian football is so familiar with, "And Sunil Chhetri has won it."