By Shrikant Shankar
A moment of madness by an Afghanistan defender in the penalty box and a red card to the goalkeeper Hameedullah Yousufzari dented their hopes of winning a maiden SAFF Championship at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi.
Goals from Sunil Chhetri, Clifford Miranda, Jeje Lalpekhula and Sushil Kumar Singh gave the defending champions a 4-0 win., with all goals coming in the last 20 minutes of the match.
Referee Sukhbir Singh awarded India a penalty in the 64th minute as Afghanistan's Faisal Safa tripped Jeje at the edge of the penalty box. Goalkeeper Yousufzari was shown a straight red card for arguing and pushing the referee. It took five minutes before the penalty was taken.
Sunil Chhetri took the penalty and put it to the right of the substitute goalkeeper, Bashir Ahmad Darman, who came in for Ghulam Abdul Hoddein. But he had to retake it for infringement by the players running inside the penalty box before the kick was taken. Chhetri took the penalty again and calmly slotted it in to the left of the keeper who jumped the other way.
That opened the match as a deflated Afghanistan, team down to 10 men, could not handle India's numerical advantage. In the 79th minute, Chhetri passed the ball to Clifford Miranda, who ran into the penalty box from the right, beat two defenders and scored from a tight angle.
In the very next minute, Chhetri again turned the provider as he squared the ball to strike partner Jeje who put the ball into the bottom left-hand corner of the goalkeeper.
The scores remained unchanged till Sushil Kumar Singh scored in the fifth minute of added time. He got the ball in the opposition third and took the ball ahead and shot from the edge of the penalty box to send it up and over the goalkeeper.
Afghanistan might feel hard done by as it was all square until the penalty and the sending-off and both teams had equal opportunities. The first half saw Afghanistan dominate proceedings as Indian goalkeeper Karanjit Singh made a string of fine save to keep the scores level.
They had more of the possession and their midfielders were running the show, while India were content on attacking on the counter. Most of India's attacks came from the wings and long balls.
Savio Medeira's side were quick off the blocks in the second half and controlled the game, as they have done in most of the tournament. Although India had more of the ball, the goal seemed to elude them.
Then in the 64th minute, came the moment of madness from Afghanistan's Faisal Safa which turned the match in India's favour. The Afghanistan players were unhappy with the decision of the referee and their goalkeeper was given his marching orders for pushing the referee.
Afghanistan's Safa got a yellow card. Djelaludin Sharityar also got a booking for kicking the penalty spot. Their coach Mohammad Yousef Kargar also showed his displeasure by arguing with the fourth official and the linesman.
Then Chhetri set up both Miranda and Jeje to take the score up to 3-0. While setting Jeje, Chhetri twisted his ankle and had to be substituted. Sushil Kumar Singh came in for Chhetri.
The referee awarded five minutes of added time and Sushil Kumar Singh made it 4-0 to give the Indian fans the icing on the cake.
Sunil Chhetri was Man-of-the-Match and also won the award for the best player of the tournament, largely due to being the top scorer in the tournament with seven goals.
Afghanistan coach Mohammad Yousef Kargar was unhappy with the penalty decision. "It was not a penalty and neither was it a red card. The referee (Sukhbir Singh) has cost us the game. His poor judgement killed the match and the tournament for us," said Kargar.
India's coach Savio Medeira was elated with the victory and has now won the tournament both as a coach and a player (1997). He refused to comment on the penalty decision saying, "I’m not sure about it, I have to see a replay of the tapes."
INDIA: Karanjit Singh, Nirmal Chettri, Gourmangi Singh, Climax Lawrence, Anthony Pereira (Steven Dias, 74th), Mahesh Gawli, Rocus Lamare, Clifford Miranda (Lalrindika Ralte, 93rd), Syed Nabi, Jeje Lalpekhula, Sunil Chhetri (Sushil Kumar Singh, 84th)
AFGHANISTAN: Hameedullah Yousufzari, Faisal Safa, Yousef Mashriqi, Haroon Fakhrudin, Ghulam Hazrat Abdul Hoddein (Bashir Ahmad Darman, 68th), Djelaludin Sharityar, Yamir Ali, Mohammad Esrafil, Moqadar Faizullah, Sanjar Ahmadi (Massod Hashmi, 76th), Balal Arezo
Referee: Sukhbir Singh (Singapore)