SAFF Cup: Afghanistan fairytale stings India

SportsAfghanistan players celebrate after beating India. AP

India's bid to win a hat-trick of SAFF Football Championship titles went up in smoke on Wednesday as they lost 0-2 to Afghanistan in the final in Kathmandu.

The Afghans, who won their maiden SAFF trophy and first international football trophy of any kind, exacted a sweet revenge for their humiliating 0-4 loss against the same opponents in New Delhi two years back. The winners were helped by strikes from Mustafa Azadzoy (8th minute) and Sanjar Ahmadi (63rd minute).

India coach Wim Koevermans's gamble of leaving out regular captain Sunil Chhetri from the starting XI didn't exactly pay off although the efforts from Robin Singh and Jeje Lalpeklhua were praiseworthy. It was their inexperience on big occasion that cost India dearly as they fumbled repeatedly on the opposition's attacking third.

For Afghanistan, it was a moment they had waited for two years having found the defeat in Delhi a hard to swallow. A fleet of Afghan Parliamentarians arrived in the

afternoon to cheer their team and one of them even went onto the extent of announcing an apartment and USD 25,000 each for the whole squad if they happen to win the match.

Whether the announcement egged them is hard to know but they certainly played to their plan as they were able to keep the Indian team at bay despite a wave of attacks. Both the strikes came off counter-attacks and after each goal, the 'Men In Red' tightened their defence.

Just like their semi-final match, Afghanistan got the much-needed goal as early as the eighth minute when right wing back Mustafa Hadid beat opposition left-back Syed Rahim Nabi as he got a lot of open space down wide right to enter the penalty box and passed it on to Belal Arezo. Belal managed to hoodwink stopper back Arnab Mondal with a pass for Mustafa Azadzoy to slot it past Subrata Paul.

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