Indians tear Tajiks apart - AFC Challenge Cup - Chhetri nets three, confirming berth for 2011 Doha Asian Cup

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By JAYDEEP BASU in Delhi
  • Published 14.08.08
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New Delhi: Wednesday night at the Ambedkar Stadium was probably the night of awakening for the minnows of Asian football.

With the near capacity crowd watching in sheer disbelief, the Indian team took their level of performance to a great height to destroy Tajikistan 4-1 in the final of the AFC Challenge Cup. This was India’s second title triumph in one year.

The star of the day was once again Sunil Chhetri, whose lone strike against Myanmar carried India into the final. On his home ground, the Delhi boy was even more deadly and found the net thrice.

It was a dream come true for India as the victory earned them a berth in the final rounds of the Asian Cup in Doha in 2011, something that has eluded them for the past 24 years. India have now found a place in the elite group of 16 that already include Qatar, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and South Korea.

But what Bob Houghton’s boys did on Wednesday to achieve the target was simply unbelievable. With the vociferous crowd cheering the home team wildly, the Indians took full advantage of the charged atmosphere and attacked the rival citadel from the word go. In 23 minutes, India were up 3-0, something the hosts have rarely done in international football in recent years.

When was the last time that the Indian strikers displayed such deadly accuracy as did Bhaichung Bhutia and Sunil Chhetri for the first quarter against a team that looked a superior side in the group league? The goals Chhetri (3) and Bhutia scored on Wednesday were surely of international class.

No doubt, the one from the Indian skipper was the best. After Chhetri put India ahead in the ninth minute, Bhutia came up with a goal that left the spectators in the stands totally stunned for a couple of seconds.

Hardly anyone could imagine that Bhutia, at 32, could come up with such a spectacular goal. Just as a floater from the left was about to land in front of him on the top of the box, Bhutia leaped in the air and let in a flying volley that crashed into the net.

Indian football has seen many a top striker from the days of Mewalal, Nevile D’Souza, Puran Bahadur, Chuni Goswami, P.K. Banerjee, Mohammed Habib, I.M. Vijayan and many others. But few of them could prove as ageless as the present Indian captain. He seems still as efficient and athletic as he was 15 years ago when he started his career. No wonder, he was adjudged as the Most Valuable Player of the Tournament.

Apart from Bhutia, the man who laid the visitors low was Chhetri with his accurate scoring ability. The Delhi boy, who started his career with the City Club here, opened the scoring for India with a goal that was hotly challenged by Tajikistan.

Chhetri’s goal, a clever flick off a rebounder, was disallowed by the assistant referee as he ruled the Indian off-side. The Uzbek referee Valentin Kovalenko then decided to overrule his assistant.

The Indians were determined to show that it wasn’t a fluke. After Bhutia made it 2-0, Chhetri simply pulverised the Tajikistan goal with a 25-yard long ranger. The ball went in a like a rocket. Fatkhullo Fatkhuloev then pulled one back for Tajikistan, a minute before the half time. To tell the truth, the second half did not look equally rosy for the Indians.

Had it not been for Subrata Paul’s amazing saves, India would have been in deep trouble. Paul, according to many, was definitely the best player for the hosts in this tournament.

Chhetri struck his third goal of the match in the 78th minute when he tapped in from close.

TEAMS

India: Subrata Paul; Surkumar Singh, Anwar Ali, Gourmangi Singh and Samir Naik; Steven Dias (Clifford Miranda 86), N.P. Pradeep (Mehrajuddin Wadoo, 36), Climax Lawrence and Renedy Singh; Bhaichung Bhutia (Sushil Singh, 78), Sunil Chettri

Tajikistan: Alisher Tuychiev; Dalerdzhon Tukhtasunov, Naim Nasirov (Samad Shohzuhkorov, 62), Davronjon Ergashev, Eradhz Radzhabov, Sohib Sovankulov; Anvar Norkulov, Fakhtullo Fatkhloev, Yusuf Rabiev, Numondzhon Khakimov (Dzhakongir Dzhallilov, 75) Dzhomikhon Muhidinov

Referee: Valentin Kovalenko (Uzbekistan).