India’s football international against Kenya on Monday (4) sold out in hours following captain Sunil Chhetri’s emotional plea for fans to support the team after barely 2,500 people turned up to watch them play last week.
Chhetri’s heartfelt appeal — backed by India’s cricket heroes Virat Kohli and Sachin Tendulkar — went viral on social media, prompting fans to shell out for tickets.
Every seat in the 15,000-capacity Mumbai Football Arena was quickly sold with one fan buying more than 1,000 tickets for the Intercontinental Cup game.
Chhetri’s plea came after India thrashed Taiwan 5-0 in front of just 2,569 people in the Mumbai stadium on Friday.
The disheartened Chhetri, who scored a hat-trick in the match, said in a Twitter video: “To everyone who has lost hope in Indian football I request you to come and watch us in the stadiums.
“It is not fun to criticise and abuse on the internet, come to the stadium and do it on our face.
“Scream at us, shout at us, abuse us, who knows one day we might change you guys,” he added in the message that he said was directed particularly at fans of the big European clubs.
“Agreed, the level is not the same, not even close but with our desire and determination, we will try our best to make your time worth it.”
The national football team are 97th in the FIFA rankings, having risen from 166th in 2015 when English coach Stephen Constantine was appointed.
But cricket dominates Indian sport and they are number one in the Test rankings.
Cricket superstars Kohli and Tendulkar both took to Twitter to back the football player after previous games opened to near-empty stadiums.
Only a few hundred turned up to see Kenya play New Zealand on Saturday.
But on Monday, the website selling tickets for the four-nation tournament showed ‘Sold Out’ for the match against Kenya.
A popular Mumbai social media commentator, Nikunj Lotia, said he had booked an entire stand for the game which will be Chhetri’s 100th international.
Lotia, whose YouTube channel Be YouNick has more than 1.7 million subscribers, invited fans to use the tickets for free.
“Have booked entire STAND NUMBER 4 for all you football fanatics! All you have to do is just be there and cheer!” Lotia, an ardent football fan, wrote on Twitter.