It was one of those days where the ball wasn’t destined to enter the rival net. Despite all the domination, ball possession and penetration, Afghanistan prevailed to emerge Champions of the 2013 SAFF Championship at the Dasrath Stadium in Kathmandu.
Much against the run of play in both halves, Mustafa Azadzoy and Sanjar Ahmadi scored one each to seize it for Afghanistan. The result brings one to the age-old conflict – the conflict as to which stays more significant – playing ‘Beautiful Football’ all throughout and ending up on the losing side or latching onto it and ‘Winning.’ History, nevertheless, will always remember the latter.
India begun with a specific strategy — stretching the playing arena as much as possible and attacking from the flanks. Afghanistan were immediately pushed to 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 rival defence regrouped. The same stayed the fate on the left where Jeje Lalpekhlua and Syed Rahim Nabi were combining well among themselves.
On the other hand, much against the run of play Afghanistan went ahead in the 8th minute when following an attack down the right Mustafa 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 the rival goalkeeper Mansur Faqiryar. Faqiryar rescued his Team three minutes later when he saved a blinder off Arata 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. The next minute, Afghanistan survived narrowly.
A diving Mansur 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.
The very first minute, Francis sped down the right but Robin’s diving header was a bit feeble to beat Mansur. The next attack was on the other side, the left flank. Jeje Lalpekhlua ran past the Mustafa Hadid but his low centre didn’t find any. 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 Mansur 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 an one-two with Francis, Chhetri beat all but his left-footer was gathered by Mansur. Afghanistan scored off the counter – Sanjar Ahmadi making the most of the opportunity to lob it over Subrata. India pressed harder but overturning a two-goal cushion against a side which understandable had gone defensive by then was too much a task.
Nevertheless, Chhetri’s runs and feints, at times, proved too much for the two rival Central Defenders and then, an acrobatic Mansur tipped over Lenny’s long ranger. Off the resultant corner, Nirmal’s free-header went over. The last chance went abegging in the 87th minute — this time a Sunil header