India clinch seventh SAFF Championship; Chhetri does it again!

India clinch seventh SAFF Championship; Chhetri does it again!

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Sunil Chhetri's goal in extra-time avenged India's loss to Afghanistan in the 2013 SAFF Championship, as India won the final 2-1 at the Trivandrum International Stadium in Thiruvananthapuram on Sunday. Chhetri, who scored from a penalty in the 2011 final against Afghanistan, was once again the difference in a closely-fought match today.

Stephen Constantine fielded an unchanged starting line-up that won 3-2 against Maldives in the semi-final. Afghanistan made two changes to their line-up which won 5-0 against Sri Lanka in their last game. Zubayr Amiri and Mustafa Zazai were drafted in, and surprisingly tournament's top scorer Khaibar Amani was dropped to the bench.

Afghanistan started the match strongly and created two good openings in the first 10 minutes of the game, the first of which arrived in the seventh minute when Mustafa Zazai, after a good build-up play down the left wing, tested Gurpreet Singh Sandhu with a left-footed drive from outside the box. The Indian custodian, however, was up to the task.

Few minutes later, Faysal Shayesteh made his way into the box and forced Gurpreet into conceding a corner with a powerful shot although they failed to convert it.

The Men in Blue slowly gained their footing in the game after weathering the initial storm, and they started to press high up the pitch whenever Afghanistan had possession of the ball. Gurpreet, on the other hand, was dominating his box from crosses and corners.

In the 14th minute, India created their first chance of the game. Jeje slipped the ball to Holicharan Narzary on the left wing, who was in a lot of space. The forward drove down the channel before cutting it back into the box. The ball took a wicked deflection off Afghanistan's Masih Saighani and Ovays Azizi, the Afghan goalkeeper, had to pull out a superb reaction save. Jeje was first to the rebound though, but his header was kept out by the crossbar.

Afghanistan were targeting Pritam Kotal, India' right back, on their left wing. The defender, who was exposed a lot in the semi-final against Maldives, was again put under a lot of pressure by Zubayr Amiri and Norlla Amiri. The duo doubled up on Kotal and created a chance in the 20th minute, with Zubayr winning a long aerial ball from the back, in a tussle with Kotal, and making it to the byline.

The Indian defenders stood off him and allowed him all the time in the world to pick out Norlla in the box, whose shot, however, rolled just wide of the far post.

Right at the end of the first half, Narayan Das had a pop at goal from a long distance, which the goalkeeper parried behind to concede a corner. Both the teams went into the half-time break tied at 0-0, as India failed to take the lead, despite controlling the game for most of the 45 minutes.

Afghanistan came out with much more purpose in the second half, and they began to dominate possesion with India dropping deep into their own half. In the 52nd minute, Zazai came close to scoring with a powerful drive from inside the box, but Gurpreet was equal to the task and kept it out.

India were mostly playing on the counter-attack, and in the 56th minute Jeje was denied by the crossbar once again! Chhetri played the ball to the Chennaiyin forward at the edge of the box, and he tried to curl an ambitious left-footed shot into the top corner. He connected impeccably, the goalkeeper was left stranded, but the crossbar came in the way.

That miss proved costly as Afghanistan took the lead in the 70th minute. Faysal played a lovely through ball, in behind the Indian defence, and Zubayr Amiri was through on goal. The 25-year-old kept his calm and clinically slotted it past a helpless Gurpreet in the Indian goal.

The hosts, however, replied immediately as Jeje finally found the back of the net. Haokip found Chhetri at the back post with a cross from the right wing, and the Indian captain's header was poked into the net by an opportunistic Jeje. Mohammad Hashemi had to take blame for conceding the goal, as he missed his chance to clear the ball from the box.

Afghanistan nearly took back the lead just two minutes later, but Gurpreet pulled out a double save, first to keep out a cross from Hadid and then another shot from inside the box.

Narayan Das was close to becoming the unlikely hero in the 84th minute, when his attempted chipped cross, nearly caught out the goalkeeper, but Azizi produced one of the most spectacular saves of the match to deny him the glory.

Both the teams failed to break the deadlock within normal time, and the match headed into extra time.

In the 101st minute, when his team needed him the most, Sunil Chhetri delivered the goods as he came up with the winner. Hashemi failed to deal with the 31-year-old striker as a long ball caused confusion at the back for Afghanistan. Azizi came off his line to deal with the danger, but Chhetri was first to the ball, and he prodded it past the keeper.

The goal gave India their seventh SAFF Cup title and with it, a positive beginning to the new year, after what was a fairly disappointing World Cup Qualifying campaign in 2015. Sunil Chhetri became only 46th player, in the game's history, to reach to 50 international goals - Joining a list which contains the likes of Pele, Puskas, Ronaldo Nazario!

Even Liverpool FC have congratulated India on winning the trophy!

Congratulations to Team India on winning the SAFF Suzuki Cup! #LFCIndia

Posted by Liverpool FC on Sunday, January 3, 2016

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