Chhetri's brace fires India to Intercontinental Cup title
MUMBAI, 10th June: India lifted the four-nation Intercontinental Cup at the Mumbai Football Arena on Sunday after beating Kenya by 2-0 in the finals. Skipper Sunil Chhetri bagged both goals for India in the first-half (8' and 29') as the Harambee Stars tasted defeat in the finals.
The Indian outfit saw a full-strength squad on Sunday evening as they locked horns against Kenya, who made two changes from their 4-0 thrashing of Chinese Taipei.
The hosts clinched an early lead through Sunil Chhetri, after the skipper connected with youngster Anirudh Thapa’s free-kick from the right-hand side in the 8th minute. From the set piece, Thapa sent the delivery horizontally for Chhetri, who easily slotted it past Patrick Matasi between the sticks after coming back off the line in a well rehearsed training ground move.
In the 24th minute, Chhetri came close to finding the second goal as he combined with Jeje Lalpekhlua and Anirudh Thapa inside the box. From a quick throw-in, Chhetri found Jeje on the left and the Chennaiyin man found his teammate Thapa, but before Chhetri could pull the trigger, Michael Kibwage cleared the danger.
Chhetri, who recently made a century of appearances for India, eventually found the goal in the 29th minute to double India’s lead. A lofted ball from Anas Edathodika flew over the Kenyan defense before being perfectly brought under control by Chhetri; the Indian number 11 released a left-footed shot to find the net for his brace.
Minutes before the break, India had the chance to make it three when they were awarded a free-kick from a lethal position. Stepping up for the free-kick, Chhetri however sent the ball over the crossbar.
The second-half started off with Indian custodian Gurpreet Singh Sandhu showcasing his skills as he pulled off a stunning save in the 48th minute. Kenya’s Ovella Ochieng released a shot from inside the box which saw Sandhu diving to his right to deny Kenya a way back into the tie.
A double substitution from Stephen Constantine at the hour mark saw a change in tactics as India shifted to a five-man midfield with Rowllin Borges and Balwant Singh replacing Holicharan Narzary and Jeje Lalpekhlua.
Kenya looked better on the attack in the second half, and in the 68th minute, John Makwata connected with a cross delivered by Erick Ouma. However, his attempt went awfully wide due to a poor first touch. Seven minutes later, Kenya were handed a free-kick at the edge of the box; Ovella Ochieng aimed for the top right corner but goalkeeper Gurpreet crushed his hopes by palming it away with a dive to his left.
Gurpreet stole much of the limelight of the latter half with his saves which kept India’s lead intact. At the final whistle, the Blue Tigers got the better of Harambee Stars to clinch the championship.