India vs Afghanistan, SAFF Cup Final: Sunil Chhetri's Goal Takes Hosts to Seventh Title
India defeated Afghanistan 2-1 to clinch the SAFF Cup for the seventh time. Sunil Chhetri and Jeje Lalpekhlua scored for hosts after Zubayr Amiri gave the defending champions the lead.
India rode on two brilliant strikes from Sunil Chhetri and Jeje Lalpekhlua to defeat Afghanistan 2-1 in the final of the 2015 SAFF Cup in Thiruvananthapuram on Sunday.(Read more football stories here)
Stephen Constantine's men went down in the 71st minute as Zubayr Amiri scored for defending champions Afghanistan. But Jeje Lalpekhlua scored the equaliser in the 72nd minute. None of the teams could then score as the match went into extra-time.
India captain Chhetri then rose to the challenge as he scored the winner in the 10th minute of the extra-time to give India a sweet revenge of their 2013 final loss to Afghanistan.
21:03 hrs IST: India are champions!! What a start to the new year.
20:59 hrs IST: Three minutes of added time. Yellow card for Ahmed Hatifi after he argues with referee. He believes he was fouled in the box by Jairu
20:56 hrs IST: Arnab Mondal is replaced by Aiborlang Khongjee with five minutes of play left.
20:55 hrs IST: Afghan players are angry. They believe Arnab Mondal committed a hand-ball in the box and their appeal for penalty was wrongly turned down
20:53 hrs IST: Appeal for hand ball by Afghan players in the box but referee is not interested. Afghan coach Peter Segrt is sent off for showing dissent.
20:51 hrs IST: India have another chance but Jeje can't score as his shot is blocked by Afghanistan goalkeeper
20:47 hrs IST: Free-kick for Afghanistan. Captain Faysal Shayesteh's shot is blocked by Gurpreet
20:42 hrs IST: THAT WAS CLOSE! Zubair Amiri's shot is blocked by Gurpreet Singh Sandhu. First-half of extra-time ends!!
20:40 hrs IST: India are rejuvenated after the goal as they follow Chhetri's crucial goal with numerous attack. Jairu comes close on one such occasion.
20:36 hrs IST: GOAL!! Sunil Chhetri scores from a free-kick. Goalkeeper Azizi came off the line as the defenders are left dumb-founded
20:32 hrs IST: India's first substitution. Pronay Haldar comes in for Eugeneson Lyngdoh.
20:28 hrs IST: Eugeneson Lyndoh gets a yellow card for fouling an Afghanistan player. Visitors get a free-kick but no danger.
20:27hrs IST: The extra-time starts! Who will blink first??
20:23 hrs IST: The SAFF Cup final gone into extra-time. What a match it has been!!
20:20 hrs IST: Abassin Alikhil's shot goes wide in the dying minutes of the injury time. And the regulation time ends at 1-1.
20:17 hrs IST: Bikas Jairu's shot is cleared by Afghan defender for a corner. Three minutes of added time.
20:14 hrs IST: Sunil Chhetri's free-kick comes close but is fisted away by Afghan keeper Azizi
10:12 hrs IST: Afghanistan has 56 per cent possession. However, Free-kick for India as Hassan Amin brings down Holicharan Narzary outside the box.
20:09 hrs IST: With eight minutes of play left, extra-time is looming large on the SAFF Cup final.
20:03 hrs IST: The match's tempo has suddenly increased, with both teams eager to take the crucial lead with 12 minutes of play left.
19:59 hrs IST: GOAL! Jeje Lalpekhlua equalises 72nd minute. Intelligent play from Sunil Chhetri who heads the ball to Jeje, who is calm enough to tap the ball in. 72' Score 1-1
19:57 hrs IST: GOAL! Afghanistan Takes Lead. Zubair Amiri scores in 71st minute.
19:51 hrs IST: Indians trying a lot of long balls. Jeje now but his shot is way off the mark. 66' Score 0-0
19:49 hrs IST: MISS! Holicharan Narzary's powerful left-footer is blocked by Afghan defender Masih Saighani
19:43 hrs IST: MISS! Jeje's chip hits the post again. It was a weak shot but the Afghan players were not ready but India still goalless.
19:42 hrs IST: Eugeneson Lyngdoh shoots a long-ranger but it goes wide.
19:40 hrs IST: Lots of short passes by the Indians! Positive sign but Stephen Constantine's men need a goal.
19:38 hrs IST: India seem to have no plan to build up a move and attack. Afghanistan attack however. Mustafa Zazai but Gurpreet fists it away for a corner.
19:33 hrs IST: The second half starts. Can India get the all-important goal?
19:27 hrs IST! Meanwhile, back in Afghanistan, the interior minister has warned fans to not celebrate Afghanistan's SAFF Cup final entry with gun-fire.
19:18 hrs IST! It's half-time and the score still stands 0-0. Towards the dying minutes of the first-half Narayan Das attempted a long-ranger, which was fisted away for a corner by Azizi.
19:15 hrs IST: ANOTHER MISS! Jeje Lalpekhlua gives a brilliant through pass to Sunil Chhetri in the box but Afghan goalkeeper Ovays Azizi intercepts well.
19:14 hrs IST! Indian defenders are giving too much space to Afghanistan forwards. Could be dangerous!
19:09 hrs IST: Afghanistan captain Faysal Shayesteh again on the attack, but Gurpreet seems to be unbeatable today!
19:06 hrs IST: Afghans get free-kick from dangerous spot from just outside the box but Indian defenders somehow manage to clear the ball
19:05 hrs IST: India haven't won a single corner as yet whereas Afghans have got three. Score stands 0-0 (36th minute).
19:03 hrs IST: MISS! Sunil Chhetri's weak left-footer goes straight to Afghan goalkeeper Azizi
19:01 hrs IST: Jeje Lalpekhlua gets a yellow card in the 31st minute for pushing an Afghan player!
19:00 hrs IST: The pace of the game have slowed down a bit. Both teams are keeping the ball in the midfield.
18:55hrs IST: Afghanistan have got four shots on goal while India have got three. But Afghans have got better possession.
18:53 hrs IST: Afghanistan get a free-kick but the ball is headed away by India's Arnab Mondal.
18:49 hrs IST: Chhetri shoots from the distance, which is blocked. Jeje however regains possession and plays it for Narzary whose shot is kept out
18:44 hrs IST: WHAT A MISS! Sunil Chhetri's header hit the bar from a deflection off Afghanistan defender. Jeje built up the attack and passed to Holicharan Narzary, whose shot hit an Afghanistan defender and deflected tp Sunil.
18:41 hrs IST: CLOSE SAVE! A lapse in defence gives Faysal the chance to shoot a powerful left-footer. But Gurpreet stretches and divert the ball.
18:36hrs IST: Afghanistan have shown more attacking instinct in the first five minutes. But Gurpreet has held firm.
18:34 hrs IST: Free-kick for Afghanistan! Kanischka's goes straight to India goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu
18:33 hrs IST: India defence needs to stay alert against Afghanistan attack, who have scored 16 goals in the tournament.
18:31 hrs IST: The action starts! India on the attack but Bikash Jairu's cross falls short of India captain Sunil Chhetri!
18:29 hrs IST: Stephen Constantine did not win the SAFF Cup in his first stint. Can he achieve it in his second?
18:26 hrs IST: Afghanistan fans have come in large numbers at the Trivandrum International Stadium. Good for the visitors, good for football!
18:22 hrs IST: Both the teams have line up for their national anthems. What a moment for the players.
18:20 hrs IST: Afghnaistan have left their top-scorer Khaibar Amani in the bench. Surprising choice there from Afghanistan coach Peter Segrt.
18:15 hrs IST: The LINE-UPS ARE OUT!
India's Starting XI: Fernandes, Mondal, Lyngdoh, Jairu, Chhetri, Lalpekhlua, Narzary, Kotal, Das, Borges, Sandhu
Afghanistan's Starting XI: Azizi, Alikhli, Amin, Z. Amiri, Shayesteh, N. Amiri, Hashemi, Saighani, Zazai, Hadid, Taher
18:10 hrs IST: WELCOME TO THE LIVE COVERAGE OF SAFF CUP FINAL!! It is India's 10th appearance in the title clash and they face the mighty Afghanistan for their seventh title.
India, who have won the SAFF Cup a record six times, were given a reality check in the 2013 edition, when they ended up as the runner-up in Nepal. (SAFF Cup: Jeje Lalpekhlua's Brace Powers India Into Final, Afghanistan Thrash Sri Lanka)
Since then, Indian football team hasn't been at its best and have dipped down to 166th, while Afghanistan rose to 150th in the FIFA rankings. (SAFF Cup: India Face Tough Test Against Afghanistan In Final)
India roped in Stephen Constantine as the new Indian team coach but the results are yet to look up. India lost five of their six matches in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers. (SAFF Cup: India Coach Stephen Constantine Says Afghanistan Are Favorites In the Final)
But their performances in the SAFF Cup campaign has been like a breath of fresh air.
Youngsters like Jeje Lalpekhlua and Lallianzuala Chhangte have proven that they have the ability to take Indian football forward.
India's all-time leading scorer Sunil Chhetri is also among goals as he scored India's opening goal in the 3-2 win over Maldives in the semifinal.
But against the physically superior Afghans, India's back-four - Pritam Kotal, Arnab Mondal, Augustine Fernandez and Narayan Das - will have a huge test.
Coach Constantine is supporter of giving new faces a chance and that has seen the likes of Bikash Jairu, Rowlin Borges, Eugeneson Lyngdoh and Holicharan Narzary prosper in the mid-field.
Afghanistan - Tough Nut to Crack
But all that reputation will be put to test against Afghanistan who defeated Sri Lanka 5-0 in the semifinal. They have scored 16 goals in four matches with striker Khaibar Amani leading the way with five strikes to his name. (SAFF Cup: 15 Afghanistan Players Strangers in Their Own Land)
The Afghanistan squad has 15 players who play in foreign leagues and this has helped them a lot. "Despite the situation back in Afghanistan most of the players are lucky to play in Germany, Denmark, USA, Bahrain, Malaysia and so on to hone their skills. Most of them have dual passport," coach Peter Segrt said.
"Of the list of 20 which we have registered in the SAFF Cup, five come from Afghanistan while the rest of the 15 players stay and play outside Afghanistan."
Afghanistan, who are the highest ranked team in SAFF at 150th, joined the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) in 2005. In February 2015, they announced that Afghanistan would officially leave the SAFF for the new Central Asian Football Association after the 2015 SAFF Cup.
This is likely to motivate them even more against India in the title clash, and Constantine's boys should be wary of that.