India celebrated SAFF Championship success as Sunil Chhetri’s extra-time goal gave the hosts a 2-1 victory over Afghanistan in Kerala last Sunday (3).
The striker netted from close range in the 101st minute to seal the nation’s seventh triumph in the competition after Jeje Lalpekhlua (72) cancelled out Zubayr Amiri’s opener (70).
Steven Constantine’s side, who lost 2-0 to Afghanistan in the 2013 final in Kathmandu, were deserved winners of the trophy despite going into the match as underdogs, and also hit the woodwork on two occasions.
In a tight clash in front of 48,000 at the Trivandrum International Stadium, Lalpekhlua had the best chance of the first half when his header crashed off the crossbar after Ovays Azizi kept out Mustafa Zazai’s deflected cross.
Azizi also turned away Narayan Das’ long range effort, while Gurpreet Singh Sandhu’s only real danger in the Indian goal in the opening half was to beat out Faysal Shayesteh’s shot.
Lalpekhlua struck the bar again in the second period before the defending champions took the lead against the run of play when Shayesteh set up Amiri to blast home from 12 yards.
India though equalised just minutes later. Holicharan Narzary’s cross was flicked on by Chhetri, and Lalpekhlua took advantage of Mohammad Hashemi and Azizi’s slip to bundle the ball in at the far post.
Both Shayesteh and Chhetri could have won the trophy before the end of normal time but the Indian hitman eventually wrote his name in the history books with the clincher.
Afghanistan had two strong penalty claims turned down late but the boys in blue held on.
“We did commit some mistakes but to rally back from a goal down like that needs a lot of character. I’m really pleased,” Constantine said.
“It was a difficult game and Afghanistan are a very good side. We had to be at our best and I thought our fitness levels was fantastic.”
Chhetri added: “Whenever there is a game in Kerala, the stadium is jam-packed. When we went down 1-0, the stadium was still cheering.
“It was enough motivation for us to make a comeback. I think the 12th man really played well for us today.”