India made consecutive entries into the final of SAFF U-16 football championship beating Afghanistan in a close encounter in Army Ground, Kathmandu. They entered the final just like the way they did two years back – winning the match in tie breaker. India managed to win 4-3 from the spot after the match was scoreless in regulation time.
The first half of the match was mostly event less, as both the teams tried to get the upper-hand in the middle of the field and concentrated more on possession rather than on attacking moves. The game had to wait till 33rd minute for its desired momentum, when a counter attacking move from Afghan striker Nasar Ahmad almost gave them the lead. But Indian keeper Dheeraj Singh was equal to the task and his deflection saved the day for the Indians. Indian skipper Prosenjit Chakroborty also came close to score, but Afghan keeper Rasuli stood firm in front of the goal to deny him. But moments later, another mistake from Rasuli, almost gave away the first goal of the match, but Surya Tirkey failed to place the ball into an empty net. The first half finished goal-less.
The second-half of the game was speedier, and had more chances than the first half. Once again Afghanistan started off showing their initiative early on as they created back to back attacks on 52nd and 53rd minutes. Mansory was behind both the attacks, but his long-ranger matched with an equally brilliant save from Dheeraj. Indian team too had their moments in this half. An Indian free kick was deflected away for a corner in the 63rd minute. Nasar Ahmad was once again was the centre of attraction in the second half and this time too Dheeraj got better of him, and a finger tip save was just enough to keep India in the match. Minutes after this incident Nasar once again came close to scoring but wasted too much time with the ball, and Indian defenders were quick to react anhd made the clearance.
India had their opportunities to go ahead towards the end of the second half. Defender Jerry Lalrinzuala carried the ball to the opponent’s half in great style, beating three defenders on his way. He passed the ball to his teammate Krishna Pandit, whose through ball was wasted by Aaron, as his shot went straight to Afghan keeper. The match finished its regulation time, with either team failing to score, and once again it was to be decided from spot kicks. Both goalkeepers made some good saves during the 90 minute game, and it was now their turn to earn the ticket to the final for their teams.
The start to the tie-breaker was not what Indian team would have liked. Krishna Pandit did a Sergio Ramos, as he skied ball well above the goalpost. To make things worse, Wazzari made it 1-0 in favour of Afghans. Bedashwor Singh wrong-sided keeper Rasouli to equalize the score. Nasar Ahmad, being denied thrice by Dhreeaj, made no mistake this time to score. Prosenjit, the Indian keeper kept his calm and put the ball into the net to keep Indian hopes alive in the game. But his opposite number, the Afghan captain Said Jalal Hussain failed to produce the same impact, and Dheeraj’s finger tip once again came in handy for Indians. The score was 2-2 and the game was nicely poised between the teams.
Surya was next to go from Indian side and he scored easily to give the lead to India. Afghan defender Sardari Amanullah balanced the score line once again, as Dheeraj failed to save this time. It was Aaron to take the final shot at goal for India . He delivered the almost a perfect shot, and the ball went in the left-top corner, giving the goalkeeper no chance to save. There was huge pressure on Mortaza, the final kick-taker from Afghan side, and his shot found the cross-bar in the way.
Goutam Ghosh’s Indian side will face challenges from the home team Nepal in the final. The hosts are looking in tremendous form, and thrashed Bangladesh 5-1 in the other semi-final. This performance from the boys in Indian colours was far from a dominating one, and Nepal poses a serious threat for them in the final. Players like Bimal Magar (top scorer of the tournament with 6 goals), Hemant Magar, Sujan Limbu are likely to give Indian players a run for their money. Moreover, they will have local support. India made their entry in the final of the previous edition of this championship beating Nepal in the semis, and that too in front of their crowd. For the young Gorkhalis, revenge will certainly be on the cards.