India exacted sweet revenge of their last edition defeat as they beat defending champions Afghanistan 2-1 in the summit clash in a dominating display to lift the South Asian Football Federation Cup for the seventh time, in Thiruvananthapuram on Sunday.
India, who had lost to Afghanistan 0-2 in the final of 2013 edition in Kathmandu, were clearly the better side in the final match between the two best teams of the regional tournament though they had to come back from one goal deficit and had to settle the match in the extra time.
The home side under Stephen Constantine could have won by a bigger margin had the woodwork not denied them twice in the match. But at the end, India ran away victors in the third straight summit clash of the SAFF Cup between the two sides and regained the title they had won in 2011.
Jeje Lalpekhlua (72nd minute) and Sunil Chhettri (101th) scored for India after Zubayr Amiri had given Afghanistan the lead in the 69th minute at the Greenfield Stadium.
The victory for 166th ranked India over higher ranked Afghanistan (150th) on Sunday gave Constantine his first win of an international tournament after taking charge early last year for his second stint at the helm of affairs in India.
Sunday’s SAFF Cup title triumph would also ease pressure on the English coach under whom India lost five and won just one match in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers while going into the tournament.
India, who were playing in the 10th final out of 11 SAFF Cup editions, re-established their dominance in the regional tournament and are also likely to make a jump in the FIFA rankings which will come out on Thursday.
For Afghanistan, who have come in the tournament with 15 foreign-based players in their squad of 20, it was a sort of disappointment as they had targeted a title win in their final SAFF Cup participation. They will henceforth compete in the recently created Central Asian Federation.
India fielded an unchanged line-up that started in their 3-2 win over Maldives in the semifinal while Afghanistan made two changes in the first eleven that played in their 5-0 thrashing of Sri Lanka.
The defending champions had a lot of possession and gained slight upperhand with physical superiority in the initial minutes but the Indians slowly clawed their way back and began to dominate the match though the two sides went into the breather goal-less.