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Tie-break to triple glory

Three years later, in the same city but in a stadium thrice as big and against a different opponent, but the script remained the same. Back in 2009, India and Syria, having already booked their berths in the final, played out a dress rehearsal that saw the hosts go down by a solitary goal.

sports Updated: Sep 03, 2012 02:59 IST
HT Correspondent
India-s-captain-Sunil-Chhetri-11-gestures-after-scoring-team-s-2nd-goal-agianst-Cameroon-during-Nehru-cup-final-match-in-New-Delhi-PTI-Photo-by-Vijay-Verma
India-s-captain-Sunil-Chhetri-11-gestures-after-scoring-team-s-2nd-goal-agianst-Cameroon-during-Nehru-cup-final-match-in-New-Delhi-PTI-Photo-by-Vijay-Verma

Three years later, in the same city but in a stadium thrice as big and against a different opponent, but the script remained the same.

Back in 2009, India and Syria, having already booked their berths in the final, played out a dress rehearsal that saw the hosts go down by a solitary goal. Two days and a stunning reversal of fortunes later, goalkeeper Subrata Paul's stunning turn in the shootout helped the boys in blue lift their second successive Nehru Cup.

It was Syria then; it is Cameroon now. Subrata Paul was again in the thick of it on Sunday night too. Only this time, he did not have much to do. With India ahead 5-4 in the shootout after the game had finished 2-2 at the end of 120 minutes, Thierry Makon hit the post. And India had their hat-trick.

Popular final
Coming into the tournament, despite all the talk about India having won the previous two editions, the Africans were the firm favourites. Granted, the Indomitable Lions did not bring over their finest, most of whom are busy playing in Europe - instead, they brought a select crop of home-grown unknowns. But on Friday, the gulf in class was evident - a bench XI of their home-grown unknowns completely dominating the proceedings, especially early on, and India, who just had about 35% possession, were lucky to come off with a 0-1 loss.

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After the match, Cameroon coach Emmanuel Bosso commented on the lack of intent displayed by the Indians on the field. Said Bosso, "Maybe they have something big planned for the final."

As it turned out, his hunch was correct - despite not seeing much of the ball early on, India did not get bogged down although they were physically the lesser side. The familiar names on the left-flank, who have impressed much through the tournament, stood out yet again - Syed Rahim Nabi was brave at the back, and Lenny Rodrigues kept initiating the moves.

Cometh the hour
But it was skipper Sunil Chhetri who rose to the occasion, quite literally at times as he out-jumped defenders much taller and stronger. An ever-present threat near Cameroon's goal, a foul on India's striker resulted in the first goal - Clifford Miranda's free-kick headed in by Gourama-ngi Singh in the 19th minute.

Cameroon shot back 10 minutes later and took the lead in the 54th minute after a defensive lapse. But just 10 minutes from time, Chhetri came to the fore once again. Brought down in a one-on-one by the Cameroon goalie after receiving Mehtab Hossain's excellent through ball, Chhetri stepped up to equalise. 2-2 it remained till the end of extra time, after which Makon - and the goalpost - did the rest.