Sunil Chhetri has retired from international football. GETTY IMAGES

Thousands of fans bid an emotional farewell to Sunil Chhetri as he played his final match for India, marking the end of an illustrious international career that positioned him as one of the world's top scorers of all time.

Around 59,000 spectators gathered to witness the captain's farewell match in Kolkata a 0-0 draw against Kuwait in a World Cup qualifier. This remarkable attendance is noteworthy in a nation where football trails far behind cricket in terms of popularity.

The 39-year-old forward netted 94 goals for India throughout a career spanning nearly two decades, placing him behind only Cristiano Ronaldo, Iran's retired Ali Daei, and Lionel Messi on the all-time international scorers' chart.

In his 151st and final appearance, Chhetri couldn't propel India to victory against Kuwait in the Asian World Cup qualifier as the match ended in a stalemate. Chhetri's prime opportunity in the 55th minute fizzled out as a pass from Brandon Fernandes was intercepted by the Kuwait goalkeeper.

Sunil Chhetri has retired from international football with India. GETTY IMAGES
Sunil Chhetri has retired from international football with India. GETTY IMAGES

Standing at 1.7 meters tall (5ft 7in), the diminutive striker marked his debut against fierce rivals Pakistan in 2005, netting India's sole goal. He secured a hat-trick against Tajikistan, propelling India to qualify for the Asian Cup for the first time in 27 years in 2011.

"He became a legend while still playing, and that's something only a few can do," India's coach Igor Stimac said last month. "He's an inspiration to everyone, absolutely committed to the Indian jersey."

Chhetri had two short stints, albeit unsuccessful, in Portugal and the United States, but the majority of his career has been spent in India, currently plying his trade for Bengaluru. In 2009, he received a contract offer from London club Queens Park Rangers, competing in England's second tier, but faced obstacles obtaining a work permit.

India, meanwhile, are currently second in Group A, trailing behind the already qualified Qatar and leading by a point over Afghanistan and Kuwait, with the top two teams progressing. India face Qatar on Tuesday, while Kuwait will host Afghanistan in the final round of group matches.