SAFF Cup 2021: 5 best things to happen to India at the SAFF Cup
After the SAFF Championship came to a close on Saturday with India lifting the silverware for the eighth time, today, we look at five best things which happened to the team in the tournament.
It was a glorious Saturday evening for Indian football fans, who a week back were in doubt if the team would make it into the finals. After the draw against Sri Lanka, the Indian team was criticized for their performance against a side ranked 205 in the FIFA rankings. But in their next encounter against Nepal, which was claimed to be a do-or-die match for team India, the Blue Tigers stole it late in the evening and kept their hopes of playing the final alive. It was job done when they won their last group game comfortably against Maldives, remaining the only unbeaten side till then in the tournament and qualifying for the final where they would be facing second-placed Nepal. It wasn't an easy match, but the stupendous performance in the second half made every Indian football fan smile. India lifted the SAFF Championship for the eighth time and that too, comfortably, with a 3-0 victory against their neighbours. As the SAFF Championship has ended, we'll be now looking at five best things which happened to team India in the tournament.
1) BREAKING RECORDS
India hasn't broken any record in this edition of the SAFF Championship but their captain Sunil Chhetri has bagged numerous accolades and broken a few records. Chhetri went on to score five goals for the Blue Tigers in the SAFF Championship and won the Highest Goal-scorer award. His performance throughout the tournament made the jury select him as the most suitable candidate for the Most Valuable Player award as well. In the process, the Indian skipper surpassed Brazilian legend Pele in accordance to the most number of international goals for the country and is now at par with the Argentinian skipper and one of the greatest the game has ever witnessed, Lionel Messi, with 80 goals to his name.
2) THE RISE OF THE PHOENIX
India's performance in the first two matches of the SAFF Championship were really disappointing. The Blue Tigers drew both the matches, 1-1 and 0-0, respectively. The fans were now losing hope, the pundits were now criticising in their own view. Up against them in the third match was mighty Nepal who had till then won both of their matches, 1-0 against Maldives and 3-2 against Sri Lanka. Fear was instilled into the fans. People were in doubt whether India would make it into the final or bid goodbye after their fourth game. Just then, the balls starting rolling and India defeated Nepal, courtesy an 82nd minute goal from the captain, Sunil Chhetri. The phoenix was rising from the ashes and eyeing for a win against Maldives, whom they comfortably defeated 3-1.
3) LOVE FOR THE CHILD
Yes, you read it correctly. After the victory against Maldives, the Indian skipper, Sunil Chhetri who had received the Man of the Match award, gave it to the youngster Lalengmawia Ralte (Apuia). Apuia played scintillating football both in the third game against Nepal and in the fourth against Maldives. His guarding the Indian defensive third looked impressive in both these games and it can be said, he played an important part in India's success at the SAFF Championship this time around. Perhaps, his impactful performance made Chhetri give away his award to the young lad who would have been turning 21 in a few days. What can this be called other than love and appreciation? Maybe motivation? Love sounds better.
4) SUCCESS, WITHOUT THE MASTER
India's head coach Igor Stimac received a red card in their last group game against Maldives and was ruled out of the final. He wasn't allowed to be on the reserve bench to guide his team. But the performance which the Blue Tigers portrayed on the pitch, would have surely made Stimac smile. This was the first major accolade he had won for the country. India defeated Nepal comfortably in the final 3-0, with all three goals coming in the second half. Sunil Chhetri broke the deadlock in the 48th minute followed by another goal in the very next minute from Suresh Singh Wangjam. The last goal came from Sahal Abdul Samad in the 90th minute when he went past two Nepalese defenders inside the penalty box and netted the ball safely home. India killed the game and won it without the coach on the side-line. They did it! Without the boss.
India were the only team in this edition of the SAFF Championship who remained unbeaten throughout the campaign. The team conceded just two goals and kept three clean sheets. Point to be noted, throughout the campaign India played with four defenders at the back and never did they field two proper central defenders. It was either Rahul Bheke and Subhasish Bose (both full-backs) or the former being assisted by Chinglensana Singh (a proper centre-back). What shall be said about the stalwart under the sticks, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu? Just applause. Nothing else. The more the days go by, the better he gets.
Follow The Bridge - Football on Twitter: @bridge_football