With only ten days of preparation and a young side, India defied the odds to regain the supremacy in South Asian football by beating Maldives a 3-1 in the final of the Sixth SAFF Championship last night. Thanks to the superior gameplan of a master tactician and the brilliant performances from a goalkeeper, India got past the hurdle to lift the coveted trophy for the fourth time.
The success will prove a major boost to the young Indian side, most of who will view this success as a launching pad for a long career in the national side.
The final match turned out to be a battle between the Maldives strikers and India’s goalkeeper Arindam Bhattacharja. He made some brilliant saves during 120 minutes of play and then stopped two penalties to emerge as the most valuable player of the tournament. However, Arindam was reluctant to take all the credit at the post-match briefing and said that it was down to a complete team effort that won them the trophy. “Its not only me, all the members of the team played well in this match. The defenders did a wonderful job and made my job easy.
“I followed the instructions that the coach gave before the shoot-out and that plan worked”, said Bhattacharja.
“This win is a result of the fighting spirit of the team. We were instructed to play positive and good football. We wanted to go match by match, and not with any pressure of winning the tournament,” said the Churchill Brothers goalkeeper who didn’t concede a single goal in the four matches that he played.
Bhattacharja was obviously excited, but not overly so, after playing such a key role in his team’s success, “I am pleased to win the MVP award. But I am keeping my feet on the ground. I will have to play with this sort of consistency all the time to find my place in the national side.”
India coach Sukhvinder Singh gave all the credit to his charges for winning such a competitive match and the tournament, “All the credit goes to the boys for the way they performed.
“We were under pressure from the Maldives strikers in the second half. We had to adjust to our game plan and decided to go a bit defensive, as we were missing a couple of important players due to injuries”, said the veteran India coach.
Sukhvinder’s counterpart, Urbanyi Istvan took the defeat gracefully. “Our boys did very well to get to the final. I thank all the fans and the officials for their continued support.”
As to why his side that scored eleven goals in the tournament failed to find one in the final, Istvan said, “It happens sometimes. Probably luck wasn’t on our side tonight.
“It was a tough game. We created more chances than India. But we found it hard to get a decider, especially for the way they played. And when it goes to penalties, it can go either way.”
India: Arindam Bhattacharja (gk), Ronaldo Rodrique, Baldeep Singh (Nirmal Chetri), Balwant Singh (Je Je Lalpekhala), Sushil Kumar Singh (Captain), Joaquim Abranches, Jibon Singh, Dharmaraj Ravanan, Robert Lalthlamuana, Denzil Franco, Jewel Raja Sheikh (Subodh Kumar).
Maldives: Mohamed Imran (gk), Umair Mohamed, Mohamed Sifan (Ali Assad), Arif Mohamed, Ashfaq Ali (Captain), Jameel Mohamed, Ahmed Thoriq, Gasim Shamweel (Fazeel Ibrahim), Abdul Ghani Akram, Naseer Mukhtar, Ibrahim Sobah Mohamed.
Yellow Cards: Ahmed Thoriq (Maldives), Dharmaraj Ravanan, Robert Lalthlamuana (India).
Referee: Al Hosni Ibrahim (Oman)
ROAD TO GLORY
Maldives 0-0 (3-1 in tie-breaker)