Indian football legend Bhaichung Bhutia heaped praise on Sunil Chhetri, crediting the national football team captain's hunger to work hard for his success on the field.
Bhutia, the former India captain who had formed a memorable strike partnership with Chhetri, welcomed his "disciple" to an "elite club" ahead of the latter's landmark match.
Chhetri is all set to become the only second player from the country after his "mentor" to make 100 international appearances when the Blue Tigers take on Kenya in their second match of Intercontinental Cup 2018 at the Mumbai Football Arena on Monday, June 4.
Chhetri thorough professional: Bhutia
"Welcome to the Club, Sunil, and it's quite an elite club. Representing your country in 100 International matches is a huge achievement," Bhutia told the official website of All India Football Federation (AIFF).
The 41-year-old added: "It's not easy for any footballer in the world, whichever country you come from to achieve such a feat. He has been one of the most-sincere and focussed footballers I have come across. I have seen him grow in front of my eyes for 15 years now and he has been a thorough professional all throughout."
Bhutia also explained how Chhetri's awareness about his strengths and weaknesses helped him grow as a footballer.
Notably, Chhetri had his National Football League debut with Mohun Bagan in 2005 during the Sikkim star's first stint with the Kolkata giants. The skipper has now broken quite a few of his mentor's records, including the one for most international goals by an India — 59 goals in 99 matches compared to Bhutia's 40 from 104.
'Chhetri always knew what he wanted'
"What he has accomplished is a result of the sheer hard work put in. He always knew what he wanted and that's why he was able to evolve as a player," Bhutia said.
"He has worked a lot on the dead ball situations. At the outset, he wasn't one of the first choices to take a free-kick. But practice makes it perfect and today he is one of the best dead ball specialists in India, both at the club and at the International level. He has also worked a lot on the physical part which is a quintessential part for any footballer to succeed at the international level."
Never dreamt of playing 100 matches for India: Chhetri
Meanwhile, Chhetri, who scored a hat-trick against Chinese Taipei in the Intercontinental Cup opener on Friday, said he never dreamt of representing the country in 100 matches.
The 33-year-old further said he realised the magnitude of the occasion only when he spoke to his mother but insisted he would be able to keep his emotions under control in the all-important clash against lower-ranked Kenya later today.
"I had a dream but never dreamt of playing 100 International matches. This is unbelievable. Honestly, I never think much about milestones. It was only when I was having a chat with my mom the other night that she became a bit emotional. How big it was for her made me realise how big the occasion is," Chettri said on Sunday.
Chhetri's heartfelt message to fans, urging them to support the Blue Tigers from the stands has gone viral. Superstar athletes, including Virat Kohli and Sachin Tendulkar, along with quite a few celebrities have backed the Indian captain's message.
While only 2,569 people were present at the Mumbai Football Arena on Friday when Chhetri's men decimated Chinese Taipei 5-0, a lot more are expected to throng to the stadium for the Indian captain's landmark outing.