Decibel levels – that’s what define die-hard fans. We call them Blue Pilgrims. Eruptions – that’s when a certain player initiates that madness for the pilgrims in the stands. We know he’s our Captain, Sunil Chhetri.
The drums, the Viking claps, the chants and the chorus had broken all decibel levels from two hours prior to the kick-off of the Hero Intercontinental Cup final at the Mumbai Football Arena — the pilgrims who had flocked to the Mumbai Football Arena initiated it, the rest followed.
Sunil Chhetri ensured the decibel levels spread all over the country with two sublime strikes in the 7th and the 29th minutes, one off his right and the second off his left.
The first magic came as early as the 8th minute. Following a free-kick where captain Chhetri was brought down outside the box, India earned a free-kick. Even as Anirudh Thapa took that step to unleash it, Chhetri sprung out of the crowd to connect Thapa’s pass to dig it to the low corner to give India the lead.
Mumbai Football Arena, quite expectedly, erupted.
That was right. Left followed in the 29th minute.
It was just another long ball which seemed quite harmless as it floated off Anas Edathodika towards Chhetri. The action kicked-off thereafter.
The captain trapped on his chest, tamed the ball to fall in front of him leaving marker Michael Kibwage no alternative but to chase the shadow. Understanding Kibwage was breathing down his neck, SC11 unleashed it off his left-foot for rival Goalkeeper Patrick Matasi to fish it out his net.
Mumbai Football Arena, quite expectedly, erupted again.
That for the record was Chhetri’s 64th goal in International Football, bringing him at level terms with Lionel Messi.
Changing over, the individual brilliance was backed by defending in numbers as if their lives depended on it. The Indians were willing to fall back to add to the strength as Udanta Singh, substitute Balwant and even Chhetri felt best to press, act as shields and tackle when necessary.
The decibel levels increased, appreciation adding to the confidence of the team, and with that of the Pilgrims.
The tallest one on the pitch, wearing the No. 23 came up with two spectacular saves which would make every No. 1 in the world proud. The first one was immediately after the changeover when he dived full length to thwart Ovella Ochieng’s effort from a distance.
Mumbai Football Arena breathed a sigh of relief.
The second one came in the 76th minute – Gurpreet’s huge frame defying gravity to acrobatically deny a Ochieng free-kick which was all addressed to the net till Gurpreet punched it out.
Mumbai Football Arena breathed another sigh of relief.
The first two substitutions came in the 61st minute – Balwant Singh coming in for Jeje Lalpekhlua and then Rowllin Borges coming in for Halicharan Narzary, while in the 80th minute Ashique Kuruniyan replaced Udanta.
Kenya attacked, dominated and earned nine corners in the process. But all in their desperate attempt to inspire themselves, they were unable to make all of that count, the decibel levels in the stands increasing with every minute as India marched on towards a historic victory.
By then the chants and the decibel levels had spread all across the country via the social media handles and the telecast on Star Sports 2, Star Sports HD 2, Hotstar and Jio TV.
The final whistle understandably brought about another eruption at the Mumbai Football Arena and then another once again when the trophy was handed over by Mr. Praful Patel, President, All India Football Federation.
In the process champions India pocketed USD 50000 while runners-up Kenya received USD25000. Indian National Team Captain Sunil Chhetri who was declared the Player of the Tournament went back home richer by USD 7500.
Boys wanted to win, says Sunil Chhetri
Moments after India lifted the Hero Intercontinental Cup courtesy a splendid Sunil Chhetri performance, Stephen Constantine, Head Coach, Indian National Team praised the team for their character on the field and touting the victory as a “win for Indian Football.”
“We really deserved to win this Cup and the players showed amazing character on the pitch in the final. This is a win for Indian Football. The work rate of the players was phenomenal and we showed how tough we are,” the coach said.
The Hero Intercontinental Cup was memorable for skipper Sunil Chhetri as he not only earned his 100th International Cap and scored seven goals in four matches thus equalling Argentina’s Lionel Messi’s record of 64 goals in International Football.
“The boys wanted to win the tournament and we did it. It is a very important win for us and Indian Football in general,” Chhetri stated. “Kenya were trying to pressure us is in the second half but we showed phenomenal character to play as a team and thwart them away.”
The skipper meanwhile has already turned his eyes towards the AFC Asian Cup. “Everything we do is about the AFC Asian Cup. The AFC Asian Cup is what we are preparing for and this tournament helped us in our preparation for that,” Chhetri added.
“I am trying to play as an example and reciprocate to everyone, trying to encourage each other in our quest for the AFC Asian Cup.”
INDIA: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Pritam Kotal (Lalruatthara – 91st), Sandesh Jhingan, Anas Edathodika, Subhasish Bose (Narayan Das – 91st); Udanta Singh (Adhique Kuuruniyan – 80th), Pronay Halder, Anirudh Thapa (Laldhanmawaia Ralte – 93rd), Halicharan Narzary (Rowllin Borges – 61st), Sunil Chhetri ©, Jeje Lalpekhlua (Balwant Singh – 61st).