The march is on – India defend title with ease

India 4 (Sunil Chhetri – 70th; Clifford Miranda – 77th; Jeje Lalpeklua – 79th, Sushil Singh – 94th) Beat Afghanistan 0

A mind of steel! Great strikers have it; an ice-cool Sunil Chhetri was, perhaps born with it.

With the colourful Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium celebrating India’s first goal from the spot in the 70th minute, the referee ordered a retake. The seven minutes of drama preceeding the kick had seen Afghanistan’s goalkeeper Captain Hameedullah Yousufzari given marching orders and Djelauldin Sharityar shown the yellow card.

With everyone in the crowd finding the time selfishly and suitable to pray to the Almighty, the nerve of steel slotted it past the goalkeeper for the second time. In the process, he set a new record by scoring seven goals in a single edition of the SAFF Championship surpassing IM Vijayan’s record of six goals in the 97 edition. India were on the way and it opened the floodgates.

Seven minutes later in the 77th minute, Clifford Miranda made it 2-0. And then Jeje Lalpeklua made it 3-0 in the 79th minute. Three goals in a span of nine minutes sealed the fate of the match as India made full use of their numerical superiority. Sushil Singh completed the rout in the 94th minute.

India played with their mind; Afghanistan with their heart. In the first half, Savio Medeira’s allowed the rivals to come to them. They stayed content in not opening their goalmouth, not being rattled by the territorial domination of the Afghans in the first half. They preferred to wait for the second half – after all the game is all about 90 minutes.

The walk back to the dressing room at the interval was most significant. The plan of not conceding any till the interval had been accomplished by then. It was time to counter-attack. The rest, by now is history. The march is surely on. It was the perfect Sunday night for India.

India: Karanjit Singh (GK); Syed Rahim Nabi, Mahesh Gawli, Gouramangi Singh, Nirmal Chettri; Clifford Miranda (Lalrindika Ralte), Climax Lawrence (C), Rocus Lamare, Anthony Periera (Steven Dias – 70th); Sunil Chhetri (Sushil Kumar – 81st), Jeje Lalpekhlua.