Male: Talismanic skipper Sunil Chhetri played a pivotal role in India’s eighth SAFF Championships title triumph by scoring five goals in the tournament. However, he credited the young brigade for team’s title triumph. The goals also helped Chettri become the second joint highest international goalscorer in the world with Lionel Messi.
“Look at the youngsters – it feels good for all of them. It’s all due to their hard work. We were here for 20 days till the final, staying on an island, riding the waves every day for practice sessions, and matches,” Chhetri said in a release from All India Football Federation (AIFF).
“We made it special as we were not so good in the first two games. It was tough from there to come up and play the way we did,” added Chhetri after his third triumph in the SAFF Championship as a player. He was referring to the matches against Bangladesh (1-1) and Sri Lanka (0-0) in the group stages.
“Didn’t start like we should have, but ended exactly how we wanted to. Proud of this bunch and the way we got things on track,” Chhetri later said in a tweet.
India beat Nepal 3-0 in the final Saturday. Chhetri got one, but was all praise of the other two Indian goal-getters – Suresh Singh and Sahal Abdul Samad. He asserted that the two youngsters should make it a habit of scoring goals in every game they play. “It is not always possible, but even then they should try for goals in every match. Make it a habit,” said the captain.
Head coach Igor Stimac, who was banned from the dugout in the summit clash after being red carded in the earlier league match against Maldives, let the players take centrestage. “The boys have done it,” Stimac stated.
Stimac became the third foreign coach after Jiri Pesek (1993) and Stephen Constantine (2015) to win the SAFF Championships with the Indian team.
The Blue Tigers dedicated the trophy to their two injured teammates – Farukh Choudhary, and Brandon Fernandes, who weren’t able to travel to the ground. While Mandar Rao Dessai and Glan Martins carried Brandon’s jersey with them, Rahul Bheke preferred to wear Farukh’s jersey even at the victory podium.
With the title win, India extended their domination in the regional tournament. Saturday’s final was the 12th for India in 13 editions.
The players will leave Sunday night for Bangalore from where they will join their respective clubs for the Indian Super League.