India lift AFC Challenge Cup; qualify for Asia Cup (Lead)

August 13th, 2008 - 11:29 pm ICT by IANS  

By Abhishek Roy
New Delhi, Aug 13 (IANS) India’s 24-year wait to qualify for the Asia Cup football tournament was finally over Wednesday as they outplayed defending champions Tajikistan 4-1 to lift the AFC Challenge Cup here. Sunil Chettri rose to the occasion before his home crowd with a brilliant hattrick (9th, 24th and 76th) and skipper Bhaichung Bhutia struck in the 19th minute to complete one of the most memorable wins for the country on the soccer field before a packed crowd of 13,000 at the Ambedkar stadium

The success came exactly a year after India made a turnaround in the sport by lifting the Nehru Cup at the same venue, which was again packed to the brim.

The turf at the Ambedkar Stadium has been lucky for the Indian team and if chief coach Bob Houghton had his way, the tournament would have been held in the capital. But it was a coincidence that the final was shifted to Delhi from Hyderabad after heavy rains in the southern Indian city made it impossible for the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) to host the title-clash there.

And Wednesday the ground proved lucky again as a desperate India came out all guns blazing and pumped in three goals in the first half to tilt the scales in their favour.

It was also after a long time the two Indian strikers scored in tandem against a side, which was in no way inferior to them. Having defeated North Korea, the highest ranked team in the tournament, Tajikitsan were determined to retain the title and had it not been for the heroics of Indian goalkeeper Subrata Paul, they would have easily done so.

Paul had a great day under the bar and with his acrobatic dives thwarted several attempts by the Tajikistan forwards.

India took the lead in the ninth minute after Chettri netted on the rebound from close after Tajikistan goalkeeper Alisher Tuychiev punched a N.P. Pradeep header.

After Chettri slotted in, the linesman ruled off-side but Uzbek referee Valentin Kovalenko overruled, drawing some strong protest from the Tajik players. The goal struck the defending champions hard pushing them on the back-foot and it allowed India to launch a flurry of attacks.

India’s perseverence finally paid-off in the19th minute when Bhutia flung himself in the air and guided the ball into the goal to double the lead. The Indian captain was adjudged the most valuable player of the tournament.

Five minutes later Chettri found the target yet again with a powerful left footer that went past the Tajik goalkeeper.

Down 0-3, Tajikistan tried hard to come back into the game with Fakhtullo Fakhtoloev reducing the margin in the 44th minute, but that was not enough for them to retain the title.

With time slipping by, the Tajiks seemed frustrated and their manager Hasan Rajabov was red carded for arguing with the match officials before the start of the second half.

After the breather, Tajikistan showed some determination to come back into the game and made some brilliant moves but the young Indian goalkeeper showed why he is considered to be the best in the country now. The inexperienced defence, sans Deepak Mondal and Mahesh Gawli, came under some pressure but youthful central defenders Gourmangi Singh and Anwar Ali stood up to the task.

Chettri completed his hattrick in the 76th minute after a one-two with his captain to seal Tajikistan’s fate.

But had it not been for Paul, India’s win would not have looked convincing.

Teams:

India: Subrata Paul; Anwar Ali, Surkumar Singh, Gourmangi Singh, Samir Naik; N.P. Pradeep (Mehrajuddin Wadoo, 36), Renedy Singh, Climax Lawrence, Steven Dias (Clifford Miranda, 86); Bhaichung Bhutia (Sushil Singh, 78), Sunil Chettri

Tajikistan: Alisher Tuychiev; Dalerdzhon Tukhtasunov, Naim Nasirov (Samad Shohzuhkorov, 62), Davronjon Ergashev, Eradhz Radzhabov, Sohib Sovankulov; Anvar Norkulov, Fakhtullo Fatkhloev, Yusuf Rabiev, Numondzhon Khakimov (Dzhakongir Dzhallilov,75) Dzhomikhon Muhidinov

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