|Jubilant Robin Singh, captain Sunil Chetri, Karanjit Singh (partly visible), Syed Rahim Nabi and Denzil Franco in New Delhi, on Sunday. Picture by Ramakant Kushwaha
New Delhi: History was created at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium on Sunday.
India won the Nehru Cup thrice in a row defeating the mighty Cameroon 5-4 in the penalty shoot-out after 120 minutes of entertaining football ended in a 2-2 draw. India had won the Nehru Cup in 2007 and 2009 also.
It was an unbelievable sight at the Nehru Stadium after Thierry Makon’s low drive off the fifth and final spot kick slammed against the post giving India a spectacular victory over the 59th placed team in the Fifa rankings.
So excited were the 20,000 partisan crowd that half of them rushed onto the pitch to congratulate the Indian team. They, however, left the pitch in a disciplined manner after the security forces asked them to clear the field.
It was definitely one of India’s finest wins in international football in recent times and they deserved every bit of it in the platinum jubilee year of the All India Football Federation.
Pitted against a far superior rival, the Indians played gallantly that simply stunned the Africans. Billed as the favourites to win the title, the Africans hardly expected such resistance from the Indians.
In the tie-breaker, Robin Singh, Sunil Chetri, Denzil Franco, Mehtab Hossain and Clifford Miranda scored for the Indians. For Cameroon, Ashu Tambe, Osumaila Baba, Bebey Kingue and Kingue Mpondo were the marksmen.
India put up a great show on Sunday. Playing against a nation, which had qualified for the World Cup six times, Wim Koevermans’ boys fought for every inch. Never for a moment they lost their focus and repeatedly build up attacks to disturb the rival back four. If Mehtab Hossain was the master in the midfield, then Lenny Fernandes surprised the fans with his regular variations. In the rear, Man of the Match Syed Rahim Nabi and Gouramangi Singh were rock solid.
In the regulation time, it was a battle of fluctuating fortune. Stunned by the lead taken by the Indians in the 20th minute, Cameroon hit back to equalise within three minutes and then struck again through a flag kick when versatile Kingue Mpondo scored his fourth goal of the tournament.
Not to be disheartened, the Indians kept on trying and had the crowd on their feet when they were rewarded with a spot kick after man of the tournament Sunil Chetri was brought down by substitute goalkeeper Nkesse Hosea in the 77th minute. The roar was simply deafening when Chetri calmly slotted the ball home to put India back on the track.
India started on a great note. The crowd went absolutely wild when India shot into the lead in the 20th minute. Only the other day, Koevermans spoke about how important it would be to capitalise the chances off the set piece moves and his boys did exactly the same. Clifford Miranda, known for his sharp and accurate free kicks, floated the ball from the right at the goalmouth. Both Gouramangi and Nabi went unmarked for the header with the former finding the target with a deft placement.
The goal was a double blow to Cameroon as they also lost their goalkeeper Ngome Lawrence in the process. Lawrence injured his right hand while trying to thwart Gouramangi and had to be replaced by Nkesse Hosea.
Unperturbed, the African side restored parity within minutes of resumption. As the ball landed at the Indian goalmouth, stopper Raju Gaekwad tried to avert the danger with a weak header. All he managed was to put the ball to Thierry Makon. The crafty striker slammed a terrific right-footed volley into the net. Subrata Paul was stranded.
Paul, however, was brilliant on occasions. His best moment in the first half came in the 42nd minute when Indian defence was hopelessly placed off a flag kick. While three Cameroon players jumped to head the ball, Paul snatched the ball away from them.
Chetri and three other players — Subrata Paul, Syed Rahim Nabi and Gouramangi Singh — were members of all three victorious Nehru Cup teams and all four had a great final on Sunday. While Chetri and Nabi were named the Man of the Tournament and Man of the Match, respectively, both Paul and Gouramangi were stars in their own rights.
The All India Football Federation (AIFF) was prompt to announce a big incentive for the winning team. While the tournament prize money of $100,000 would be distributed among players, the federation would give an equal amount to the team as bonus.
India: Subrata Paul; Nirmal Chetri (Denzil Franco, 92nd), Gourmangi Singh, Raju Gaekwad and Syed Rahim Nabi; Sanju Pradhan (Robin Singh, 63rd), Lenny Fernandes, Mehtab Hossain and Clifford Miranda, Francisco Fernandes and Sunil Chetri.
Cameroon: Ngome Lawrence (Nkesse Hosea, 21st), Bebey Kingue, Moundi Gustave, Kingue Mpondo and Momaso Joseph, Meyoupo Stephane, Ashu Tambe, Thierry Makon and Jean Patrick; Ebanga Bertin (Ousmaila Baba, 78th) and Kologny Merime (Eloundou Charles, 59th).
Referee: V Tseylin (Uzbekistan).