31 Aug : Defending champions India beat Syria 5-4 in the penalty shootouts to lift their second successive Nehru Cup title at the Ambedkar Stadium on Monday.
Goal-keeper Subroto Paul, who saved three penalties to become India’s saviour, was awarded the man of the match.
Climax scored the first goal for India in the penalty shootouts. Renedy took the second penalty and missed as he hit the pole. India goal-keeper paul revived the home team’s hopes as he stopped the second penalty diving to his left.
Sunil Chhetri again gave India the lead by scoring in the third penalty. Again Indian goal-keeper stopped the Syrian penalty to retain the lead. Mehraj missed the penalty would have given India the title. Syria again levelled again by scoring in the fourth penalty. Sukumar Singh again scored to give India the lead.
Before the penalty shootouts, India were granted a free kick because of a foul committed on Indian captain Bhaichung Bhutia in the 114th minute in the extra-time and Renedy didn’t let the opportunity go waste as his kick swung from right to left to beat the Syrian captain and goalkeeper.
But Syria scored the equaliser in the dying minutes to dash India’s hopes and the final went into penalty shootouts.
Coach Bob Houghton’s decision to rest key players in the last inconsequential league match against the same opponents paid dividends as the senior players came afresh for the final encounter of the five-nation football tournament.
It was a heated, tensed and keenly contested encounter in which the referee had to intervene many times to calm down the players. Indian captain Bhaichung Bhutia was handed yellow card in the first half of the game. However, the first half ended without a goal.
India were awarded a free kick soon after the commencement of the second half when skipper Bhutia was fouled. But the free kick taken by Steven Dias was stopped by the Syrian goal-keeper.
The heat was not limited to just the players. The Syrian coach Fajer Ebrahim lost his cool in the 60th minute when two off-sides were given against his team in quick succession. He got into an argument with the linesman and that led to India coach Bob Houghton gesturing towards the Syrian camp while pointing his fingers and saying something.
In 89th minute when an off-side was again given against Syria, a frustrated Ebrahim argued with the linesman again. This time Haughton was only staring at him without saying anything.
In the extra time, a support staff of Syria was sent off for arguing with the linesman following an ugly incident in which Bhutia was tackled from behind by a Syrian player which led to some pushing and shoving.
The highly contested match was watched by Bollywood star Salman Khan and AIFF acting president and Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel and Union Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports M S Gill.
Two years ago at the Ambedkar Stadium, the home team had beaten the Syrians in front of a 20,000-strong crowd to win their maiden Nehru Cup title.