Sunil Chhetri equaled the legendary Lionel Messi with his 80th international goal as an inspired On Saturday, India defeated Nepal 3-0 to claim their eighth SAFF Championship championship.
India’s dominance in the regional competition was extended courtesy to second-half goals from Chhetri (49th minute), Suresh Singh (50th), and Sahal Abdul Samad (90th).
With his goal, Chhetri, 37, equaled Messi’s record and became the second-highest goal-scorer in international football history among active players.
Suresh Singh and Saha soon added to the total, paving the door for India’s title win, which was much-needed after a string of poor performances.
At the final whistle, Sahal made it 3-0 by dribbling past a few players after getting the ball on the left wing.
India controlled possession in the first half but were unable to break the tie. However, Chhetri put India ahead just minutes into the second half, and Suresh made it 2-0 before Nepal could calm down.
This is the first trophy won by the Indian football team under head coach Igor Stimac, who has recently been under fire for his club’s inability to win enough games.
However, when it came down to it in this edition of the regional competition, Stimac’s players achieved the results that the team’s fans had hoped for.
Stimac also became the third foreign coach to win the title with the Indian squad, following Jiri Pesek (1993) and Stephen Constantine (2015).
Chhetri put India ahead after charging in to expertly head home a ball from Pritam Kotal on the right wing, leaving the Nepalese goalie no opportunity to save his team.
Just a minute after Chhetri’s opening, Suresh scored for India when Yasir Mohammad expertly cut it back for the midfielder.
With their tails up after two fast scores, India fought hard for more but were unable to add to their total for some time before Sahal hit the back of the net with a single effort.
Prior to Sahal’s goal, Manvir Singh had an opportunity in the 52nd minute after being passed through, but his left-footed attempt was stopped.
Udanta Singh had a wonderful chance in the 79th minute when he was in the open to take a shot on goal, but Rohit Chand came up with a fine stop to deny the Indian winger.
Both India and Nepal failed to capitalise on chances that came their way, therefore the game ended goalless at halftime.
India should have taken the lead minutes before halftime, but the ball thrown from the right wing for Chhetri was not well met, and the Indian captain’s attempt flew wide.
India, on the other hand, more than made up for it in the second half, much to Stimac’s satisfaction.
India began the game with a psychological edge against the Himalayan country, as past or current data clearly favoured Stimac’s team to win the championship for the second time.
After a tumultuous start to their campaign, India finished it in style against the first-time finalists.
The final was India’s 12th in 13 seasons, demonstrating the Blue Tigers’ dominance in this regional event.