Afghanistan beat India to win SAFF Cup

A dominant Afghanistan ended India’s hopes of a hat-trick of titles, with a 2-0 victory in the SAFF Cup football final at the packed Dasarath Stadium here on Wednesday.

A dominant Afghanistan ended India’s hopes of a hat-trick of titles, with a 2-0 victory in the SAFF Cup football final at the packed Dasarath Stadium here on Wednesday.

It was one of those days for India where the ball wasn’t destined to enter the rival net.

Much against the run of play in both halves, Mustafa Azadzoy and Sanjar Ahmadi scored one each to seize the moment for Afghanistan.

India began with a specific strategy – stretching the playing arena as much as possible and attacking from the flanks. Afghanistan were immediately pushed on the backfoot.

The triangle of Arata Izumi, Mehtab Hossain and Francis Fernandes, well supported by Lenny Rodrigues, went past the Afghan defence a couple of times but the rivals quickly regrouped. This was also the case on the left, with Jeje Lalpekhlua and Syed Rahim Nabi combining well.

On the other hand, much against the run of play, Afghanistan went ahead in the eighth minute when, following an attack down the right, Azadzoy evaded Subrata Paul to tap it in.

The goal, nevertheless, couldn’t dampen the spirit of the Indians. Instead, it further spurred them on.

India’s first positive chance came in the 20th minute when Robin Singh, preferred over Sunil Chhetri in the starting line-up, sidestepped Mohammad Rafi but his powerful left-footer from just outside the goal arena narrowly went over.

Off the very next attack, Jeje Lalpekhlua disbalanced himself just at the moment of pulling the trigger – his weak left-footer not troubling rival goalkeeper Mansur Fagiryar.

Fagiryar rescued his team three minutes later when he saved a blinder off Izumi, his reflexes coming to his team’s rescue. He stayed the savior again in the 32nd minute when he stretched himself to palm off an Arata header off a Mehtab corner.

Arata again stayed in the thick of things in the 34th minute but his left-footer deflected off Rafi just outside the rival box.

Afghanistan survived narrowly in the next minute. A diving Fagiryar managed to keep Mehtab’s piledriver away but off the rebound – first Rafi made a goalline save and then Mohammad Yuseef Mashrgi recovered just in time to keep away Arata’s tap. The ball wasn’t just destined to enter the Afghanistan net.

The fate didn’t change even after resumption.

In the very first minute, Francis sped down the right but Robin’s diving header was a bit feeble to beat Fagiryar. The next attack was on the left flank. Jeje Lalpekhlua ran past the Mustafa Hadid but his low centre didn’t work.

Afghanistan, by then were defending all in their own half. Their clearances were becoming desperate and once, Robin beat the off-side trap but an onrushing Fagiryar was just that split second earlier than him.

Sunil Chhetri replaced Jeje Lalpekhlua in the 59th minute and his first-touch had the rival defence guessing. Playing a one-two with Francis, Chhetri beat all but his left-footer was gathered by Fagiryar.

Afghanistan scored off the counter – Sanjar Ahmadi making the most of the opportunity to lob it over Subrata Paul.

India pressed harder but overturning a two-goal cushion against a side which understandably had gone defensive by then was too much of a task.

Nevertheless, Chhetri’s runs and feints at times proved too much for the two rival central defenders and then, an acrobatic Fagiryar tipped over Lenny’s long-ranger. Nirmal’s free-header went over off the resultant corner.

The last chance went abegging in the 87th minute – this time a Sunil header going over.


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