By Rahul Bali with Ayush Srivastava at the stadium
Afghanistan avenged their defeat at the 2011 SAFF Championship final by getting the better of India at the Dashrath Rangasala Stadium, Nepal as they recorded a 2-0 victory on Wednesday evening. A goal in each half by Mustafa Azadzoy and Sanjdar Ahmadi was enough to seal the title for Yousef Kargar's side.
Afghanistan included Marouf Jamhour in the starting eleven as he was back to operate from the left wing. Wim Koevermans took a surprise decision to bench skipper Sunil Chhetri and name an unchanged line-up which won the semi-finals against Maldives.
It didn’t take long for the Lions of Khorasan to surge ahead as Mustafa Hadid crossed for Balal Arezou who slid it for Mustafa Azadzoy who easily slotted it home in the ninth minute. Gouramangi Moirangthem and Arnab Mondal failed to put in a tackle while Subrata Paul was caught napping in the backline.
And the pressure continued to build as four minutes later an error in defense allowed Sanjdar Ahmadi and Arezou in before Mondal put in a last gasp tackle.
In the 19th minute, a long ball by Mehtab Hossain saw Robin Singh outmuscle Farzad Ataee to go in a one-one-one position with the goalkeeper Mansur Faqiryar which resulted in the two players going down after a cluttering into each other.
The Indian defense was caught at sixes and sevens with Nirmal Chettri in particular being the worst of the lot as often his positional sense bereft him and allowed the opposition to initiate attacks from the left.
Around the half way mark, Jeje Lalpekhlua did well to find Robin on the edge of the box as the latter saw his effort go wide.
Arata Izumi had a decent opportunity when the ball ricocheted of a defender to fall in his path but the Japanese-born player’s shot lacked venom to trouble the Afghan custodian.
Mehtab flung in a corner-kick which saw Gouramangi flick towards the goalmouth with no Indian player attacking as the danger evaded for the opposition without having to sweat.
India came close to equalising when Mehtab’s piledriver was parried away by Faqiryar with Robin keeping it in play. Jeje saw his effort from 5 yards out being cleared on the line by Mujtaba Faiz to go only as far as Arata whose shot was scrambled clear by the Afghan defense.
The defending champions started the second half on a positive note as they looked to go forward with intent. The introduction of Sunil Chhetri at the hour mark certainly added more teeth to the attack. He joined Robin in attack and Koevermans switched to a 4-4-2 formation.
He immediately sprung into action and forced a save off the keeper as he cut past Ataee after some brilliant interchange of passes between Lenny Rodrigues and Francis Fernandes.
The second goal of the evening came in the 62nd minute when Arezou’s shot was saved by Paul and the ball only went as far as Sanjdar Ahmadi who lobbed the ball over the Indian goalkeeper to find the back of the net as Gouramangi failed to clear it on the line.
Chhetri had another effort on goal as he hit it from the outside of his foot to see his shot come off the crossbar back into play.
The Indian skipper missed an opportunity a few minutes later as he evaded a defender to make space for himself and hit it wide.
An Azadzoy free-kick from the right saw the Indian defense fail to deal with it as substitute Hashmatullah Barakzai couldn’t keep his effort down with Paul coming off his line.
In the 79th minute, Lenny sent in a powerful long ranger which was tipped over the bar by Faqiryar who continued his fine form in the final.
Paul gave away a needless free-kick for handling the ball outside the area which saw Hashmatullah drive his shot just wide.
Chhetri had a chance at the death from a Francis cross but the striker’s header missed the target yet again.
The scoreline remained the same until the final whistle as Afghanistan won their first ever international tournament. India did put in a decent performance but lack of goals and a poor defense saw them missing out on winning their third straight SAFF Championship.
How do you stay up with football when on the move? With http://m.goal.com –your best source for mobile coverage of the beautiful game.