India create history, win Nehru Cup football tournament
The lone goal for India in this history creating feat comes in 44th min from NP Pradeep.sports Updated: Aug 30, 2007 02:26 IST
Egged on by delirious fans, India lifted the Nehru Cup international football trophy for the first time with a 1-0 victory over a 10-man Syria in a riveting final on Wednesday evening.
India's first major international title fittingly came on a day when the country celebrated the National Sports Day and President Pratibha Patil gave away the Arjuna Awards for excellence in sports.
In a way, the victory was also a rerun of sorts of the Bollywood hit "Chak De India" in which a Shah Rukh Khan-coached Indian women's hockey team comes from behind to claim a world title.
The win made the team richer by $40,000, apart from the several other monetary awards that were announced even as the final whistle blew. This is the first time an Indian football team has raked in so much money - and could well spur a resurgence of the game in India.
A solitary strike from NP Pradeep was all that India - on the attacking mode right from the word go - needed in front of a full capacity Ambedkar Stadium. It was an exciting encounter - with tempers flaying - that kept the spectators on the edge of their seats.
Syria's Wael Ayan was red carded in the 44th minute after he deliberately kicked Surkumar Singh.
The last time India won an international tournament was in 2005 when they lifted the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Cup in Pakistan. That tournament only involved teams from the SAARC region that were not of a very high standard.
But Wednesday, India looked like a determined lot as they defeated tournament favourites Syria, who are ranked 112 by FIFA against 151 for the hosts.
It was a closely fought contest and India took sweet revenge for their 2-3 loss to Syria in the league stage.
Pradeep scored the only goal of the match in the 44th minute when he drove past Syrian goalie Mowsaab Blahowss after an on-pass from captain Bhaichung Bhutia. A cross from Steven Dias found Bhutia in the box and he headed on to Pradeep - who didn't waste any time to slot it in.
After conceding the goal, the entire Syrian team looked rattled but didn't give up till the last minute. Ultimately they had to bow to the grit and determination of the Indian team.
The score line could have been much better but Bhaichung and his boys squandered several chances.
On one occasion, Bhutia had an open net but shot wide. Even so, the Indian captain led from the front as he has done all through the tournament - but didn't get much support from Sunil Chettri.
Chettri seemed rusty and was ultimately replaced by Tarif Ahmed in the dying minutes of the game. Mahesh Gawli, adjudged as the Man of the Match, and NS Manju manned the defence extremely well.
India: Subrata Paul (goalkeeper), Mahesh Gawli, NS Manju, Gourmangi Singh, Surkumar Singh, Steven Dias, Ajayan Nair (Clifford Miranda, 81), Climax Lawrence, NP Pradeep, Sunil Chettri (Tarif Ahmed, 90+), Bhaichung Bhutia (Abhishek Yadav, 90+).
Syria: Mowsaab Blahwoss (goalkeeper), Ali Dyeb, Mahmoud Al Amena, Maher Al Sayad, Khaled Albaba, Mootassem Alaya (Ali Arifaai, 84), Aatef Jenyat, Wael Ayan, Zeen Alabeden Fandi, Zyad Chaabo (Anas Al Asaf, 89), Feras Esmaeel.
Referee: Sikhrakar Surendra (Nepal).
First Published: Aug 29, 2007 21:04 IST