Sunil Chhetri had a role to play in all three goals. Fortunately, two of them came for India as they lifted seventh SAFF Cup title with a 2-1 win over Afghanistan at the Greenfield Stadium on Sunday.
First, his error led to a swift Afghan counterattack and a goal which gave them the lead. He rectified it two minutes later with a clever assist for Jeje Lalpekhlua’s equaliser. The most important one came in the first period of extra-time, which ultimately proved to be a winner.
Coach Stephen Constantine had said on the eve of the final that, “If we fight from first minute to the last we would win it.”
Fought they did, across the field. The defence hardly put a foot wrong. When Afghans did manage to get past them, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu stood tall. The midfield let much past them, shielding their defence and the forwardline did everything that was aspired of them.
Constantine was very concerned about his defence going into the final and they looked jittery on occasions but that was only for a brief moment as they were mostly in control of what was happening around the goal.
To hold a side at bay, which has scored 16 goals in four matches coming into the final, it needed a herculean effort and that’s what they delivered.
Eugenson Lyngdoh and Rowlin Borges were huge in the centre of the midfield and didn’t allow much room for the Afghans, pushing them to the wings, who were putting cross from the left and as well as the right but with not much success.
India were by far the superior side and more innovative when it came pushing forward and creating chances. The opportunities did fell for them but as has been the case in this tournament, they were tad unlucky, though, with Jeje hitting the crossbar in both halves and numerous chances they failed to latch onto.
While Afghanistan kept arguing referees decision in the extra-time, they should blame themselves for their capitulation. On the attacking front, they failed to create enough and defensively, they were horrendous. Such was their intensity of complaining that Japanese referee Horoyuki Kimura even sent-off their coach Petar Segrt.
That was a lackadaisical display from a side that conceded just one in entire tournament. After all, India’s both goals came because of lack of communication between their centrebacks and the goalkeeper.
As the game wore down so did the Afghans, especially in extra-time. Their defence couldn’t dope with the pace of Chhetri, Jeje, Bikash Jairu and Holicharan Narzary, who were raiding them at every given opportunity.
Afghans hit the upright in the last few minutes but that’s all they could manage as India shut shop and were successful in lifting the trophy.