Debayan Mukherjee

Embrace ‘New India.’ On Sunday in the Nehru Cup final at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, India played like a team for the future. Paint the larger picture, that of the entire 12-day meet, and there are bright spots and only bright spots.

Keeping in mind Lakshya 2022 in Technical Director Rob Baan’s Master Plan, India is indeed going in the right direction as Coach Wim Koevermans always maintains.

India did not blink from the first whistle. They not only closed down the Indomitable Lions well but also intercepted expertly in the middle of the park. One such instance saw Indian Captain Sunil Chhetri get past his markers to shoot. Every move was being cheered by the 25000 plus crowd that had turned up to watch ‘New India.’ And they did not have to wait too long to celebrate.

India beat Cameroon 5-4 (2-2) on penalties in the Nehru Cup final to emerge Champions for the third time in a row. After both teams were tied 2-2 despite 120 minutes, Robin Singh, Sunil Chhetri, Denzel Franco, Mehtab Hossain and Clifford Miranda scored from the spot while for Cameroon, Makon Thierry muffed – he hit the post.

India broke the deadlock in the 19th minute. Gouramangi Singh nodded home from a Clifford Miranda free kick with goalkeeper Ngome Lawrence out of his line. Lawrence picked up an injury soon after and was replaced by Nkessi Hosea.

While Lawrence was being nursed, India lost the momentum and the Indomitable Lions capitalised on that to get the all important equaliser. Makon Thierry’s powerful shot from just outside the box beat Subrata Pal. The scored remained one-all till the interval.

Changing over, India almost scored. A diving Gouramangi could not connect after Nabi had floated the ball inside the 28-yard box from the middle of the pitch.

Minutes later, Cameroon took the lead in the 52nd minute through top scorer Kingue Mpondo. The African giants were using their physical superiority coupled with never ending stamina to bog the hosts down. But India refused to surrender.

They fought like tigers creating chances one after the other. Their perseverance finally paid off.

Chhetri was brought down by substitute custodian Hosea after Mehtab Hossain had set him up beautifully. The diminutive India Captain equalised from the spot to set the crowd on fire. From then on it was India all the way. Chhetri almost doubled his tally after Francis Fernandes played a delightful cross into the area in the 83rd minute. The teams could not be separated in regulation time.

India enjoyed the upper edge in the first half of the extra time and should have taken the lead again — Robin Singh’s free header sailing over the bar in th2 105th minute. As time wore on and penalties loomed large after the breather, the tension was palpable on the field. Finally the whistle blew for the final time and it was time for the penalties.

As drama encumbered the Nehru Stadium, India won 5-4 in the tie-breaker. Robin Singh, Sunil Chhetri, Denzel Franco, Mehtab Hossain and Clifford Miranda scored from the spot. For Cameroon, Makon Thierry muffed – he hit the post. India win the Nehru Cup for the third time.

INDIA: Subrata Pal; Nirmal Chhetri (Denzil Franco 90’), Gouramangi Singh, Raju Gaikwad, Syed Rahim Nabi; Sanju Pradhan (Robin Singh 63’), Mehtab Hossain, Lenny Rodrigues, Clifford Miranda; Francis Fernandes; Sunil Chhetri.