Defender Jerry Lalrinzuala scored a spectacular goal through a long-ranger as India beat Nepal 1-0 to lift the South Asian Football Federation Under-16 Championships title in Kathmandu on Tuesday.
India, represented by All India Football Federation's Regional Academy, surged ahead in the 18th minute with Lalrinzuala unleashing a powerful left-footed 35-yard strike to beat the Nepalese goalie in the final match at the Dasharath Stadium.
The early goal, which stunned the partisan home crowd to silence, turned out to be the match-winner. India returned unbeaten in the biennial tournament.
On a rain-soaked afternoon in Kathmandu, India dominated proceedings from the first whistle, with the boys showing exemplary maturity to play according to the heavy ground conditions.
Birthday boy Jerry could not have asked for a better gift. The 14-year old Mizoram lad impressed one and all with his darting overlaps down the left flank and was rewarded for his performance in the 18th minute.
Latching on to a loose ball just outside the 18-yard box, Jerry sent a left-footer from 35-yards out which crashed into the top left corner of the Nepal goalpost.
The Indian lads, who led 1-0 at halftime, continued to impress post the breather as the rain kept pouring down.
Jerry almost doubled his tally 10 minutes into the second half when his free-kick from just outside the box went inches wide and then in the 66th minute, midfielder Deependra Singh Negi's attempt from close was fisted away by the Nepal custodian.
India though came under strong pressure in the second session with the Nepalese making desperate attempts to restore parity. But the visiting side showed their rock-solid rearguard.
If skipper Jayananda Singh's last-ditch tackle in the 84th minute saved a sure goal, goalkeeper Dheeraj Singh had a match to remember as he made some crucial saves to keep the hosts at bay, especially in the last quarter of the match.
National captain Sunil Chhetri said the feat acts as a "motivation for the Senior Team."
"I am really happy for the boys. It's a great feat. I would like to congratulate the entire Team and Support Staff. It also acts as a motivation for us as we play the same Championship in another month's time," Chhetri quipped.
Head coach Gautam Ghosh lauded his boys after the victory.
"The triumph shows that we are on the tight track. It all began from scratch when we roped in talented boys from all parts of the country," an elated Ghosh said.
"But having said that, this was a final and a positive result would always have an inspirational effect on the boys. I'm proud of them the manner they held on in front of a 20000 plus partisan crowd," he added.
"The message from national coach Wim Koevermans and captain Sunil Chhetri had a huge influence on the boys. We all look up to them and a message from them to the U-15 kids meant a lot. We are happy that we have been to keep everyone smiling."