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SAFF Cup: India end five-year title wait
Deccan Chronicle| kevin kishore
Published on: January 4, 2016 | Updated on: Invalid date
Chhetri scores extra time winner to hand hosts 2-1 win over Afghanistan.
Thiruvananthapuram: Players of Indian football team celebrate after beating Afghanistan in SAFF Suzuki Cup 2015 final match, in Thiruvananthapuram on Sunday (Photo: AP)
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Sunil Chhetri scored an extra-time thriller to help India reclaim the South Asian Football Federation Cup after a gap of five years by defeating Afghanistan 2-1 here on Sunday. After conceding the opener, India came back in style as Jeje Lalpekhlua equalised to extend the match to a nerve-racking extra time in which the captain held his cool to bring the cup home for a record seventh time.
Jeje along with Holicharan Narzary played an enthralling match while India custodian Gurpreet Singh was at his best and kept the Afghanistan strikers at bay. Though Afghanistan had plenty of possession, it were India who scared the visitors in the first half.
Along with Narzary, Jeje was involved in almost all of the chances created by the hosts while skipper Chhetri was not that effective as a second striker in the first half in the 4-4-2 formation of coach Stephen Constantine.
However, the captain had his chances but was not able to beat a firm Azizi in a couple of attempts. The best chance came for him in the 33rd minute when he controlled a beautiful cross by Narzary with his chest but a delay in shooting helped the Azizi to make a routine save.
Afghanistan were not able to create chances despite the possession, courtesy a tight defending by the Indians. Most of the attacks were closed in by the defenders quickly and Rowling Borges took a firm guard of the back four in his holding position. Gurpreet was formidable as was able to read the high balls and deny the Afghans from their set plays.
The best chance for the visitors came in the 40th minute when Zubayr Amiri’s tried to take the lead with a back heel but Gurpreet was alert to block it. Afghanistan skipper Faysal Shayesteh also had his share of chance but Gurpreet again came to the rescue with a diving save. India continued their threat whenever the forwards received the ball but were unlucky as Jeje was denied by the bar again. This time it was Chhetri who dribbled past a couple of midfielders to pass it to Jeje who sent a half volley, which hit the top side of the bar.
India continued to put pressure on the defending champions but a failure to mark Zubar Amini allowed Afghanistan to take the lead in the 70th minute. Faysal picked out unmarked Amiri in the penalty box and the forward wasted no time in sending the ball through the legs of Gurpreet.
India’s reply was swift as Chhetri headed a cross from Narzary to Jeje, who sent an excellent flick to equalise. Later, the Indian captain was fouled near the box and in the ensuing corner, Chhetri forced another beautiful acrobatic save from the Afghan goalie to extend the match to extra-time.
But the captain had not to wait longer to kickstart the celebrations as he got hold of the best chance in the extra time and managed to roll the ball past the goalline, making two defenders and the advanced Afghan custodian as mere spectators.
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