Chhetri leads India to eighth SAFF title
India once again proved too strong for their neighbours, securing an eighth SAFF Championship crown by beating Nepal 3-0 in the final of the 13th edition of the regional football extravaganza at the National Football Stadium in Male yesterday.
It seemed the perfect platform for David to slay Goliath but Nepal, playing in their maiden final, could not make that happen as India's illustrious striker Sunil Chhetri -- who was named man of the final and the tournament's most valuable player -- continued to lead from the front. He scored his fifth of the tournament -- which also earned him the tournament's golden boot -- to open the scoring with a spectacular running header before Suresh Singh and substitute Sahal Abdul Samad joined the party to continue the 12-time finalists' stranglehold on the trophy.
Although both head coaches were sidelined through suspension, India and Nepal played exciting, fast-paced football in the pouring rain, which did little to dampen the enthusiasm among the spectators.
Nepal, playing the final for the first time in the SAFF Championship's 28-year history, made three changes to the team that played out a 1-1 draw against Bangladesh in their final group game while India made one change, drafting in Anirudha Thapa and Chinglensana Konsham.
While India enjoyed the lion's share of possession, Nepal got better chances to take the lead in the first half after Nepalese goalkeeper Kiran Kumar Limbu bravely denied Anirudha Thapa in the fourth minute.
On a wet surface, Nepal broke at pace and Sujal Shrestha and Rohit Chand squandered two good chances in the sixth and 16th minutes before India mounted pressure late in the first half with Chhetri volleying over from inside the box in the 44th minute.
After the break, India proved why they are ahead of 61 places ahead of Nepal in the FIFA Rankings by scoring two goals in two minutes.
Manvir Singh first ran down the left and lifted in a cross, which was met perfectly by the head of Chhetri and took one bounce on its way to the back of the net in the 49th minute. Suresh Singh then drove home from inside the box after capitialising on a cut-back from Yasir Mohammad in the 50th minute.
With both teams attacking and counter-attacking, substitute Sahal Abul Samad wrapped up the triumph by netting a third goal from a goal-mouth melee in stoppage time to send the Indian spectators into raptures.