Subrata Paul’s heroics lit up the dramatic summit clash as defending champions India tamed Syria 5-4 to win the Nehru Cup
International Football Tournament at the Ambedkar Stadium on Monday.
Paul conjured up a special performance, saving as many as three penalty shots to script the win after the match had been stretched to penalty shootout following the 1-1 deadlock at the end of the regulation time.
For India, Climax Lawrence, Sunil Chhetri, Steven Dias, Anwar Ali and Surkumar Singh scored in the shootout while Renedy Singh and Meharajuddin Wadoo missed the target.
For Syria, Raja Rafe, Mosab Balhous, Abdul Fatah Alaga and Abdul Razak Al Hussain found the target while the shots taken by Hamzeh Al Attouni, Wael Ayan and Ahmad Haj Muhammad were saved by Paul.
India pocketed $40,000 for their successfil title defence, while Syria went richer by $20,000.
The vociferous crowd, which also included Bollywood actor Salman Khan, had filled the 20,000 capacity Ambedkar Stadium and they ran into the pitch after Pual saved the last penalty of the Syrians.
India had almost won the match without going to the penalty shootout after second half substitute Renedy Singh struck in the 114th minute only to see Syrian midfielder Weal Ayan equalise from a header in the last minute of the extra time (120th).
The second consecutive top finish in the tournament also marked a hat-trick of titles in just over two years by India, under coach Bob Houghton.
The win by Houghton’s boys today also meant that India became the only third country in the history of the Nehru Cup to have defended the title after then USSR (1985, 86, 87) and Iraq (1995, 95).
After the barren regulation time, Renedy injected life into the match taking a 35-yard free kick from near the left touchline.
Renedy curled it into the Syrian near post with goalkeeper Mosab Balhous remaining a mute spectator but the Indian joy was shortlived as Syria equalised soon.
In a match which turned rough and tense on several occasions, both sides failed to penetrate with the Indian back four admirably thwarting the Syrian attacks led by Mohammad Al Zino.
Playing with 3-5-2 formation, the physically stronger Syrians were more in possession of ball but they still could not get the better of the Indian defence.
For India, who played their usual 4-4-2 formation, the midfield duo of Climax Lawrence and NP Pradeep failed to hold the ball while the two wings rarely made the threatening crosses.
Steven Dias, who starred against Sri Lanka, could not do much as also left winger Anthony Pereira as the taller and well built Syrians played physical at times.
Bhaichung Bhutia was closely marked by the two tall defenders Ali Dyab and Hamzeh Al Attouni and the Indian captain had a lot of tussle with them, both with and without the ball.
In one such physical tussle, Bhutia was shown yellow card by the Maldives referee Adil Ali, his second of the tournament.
Bhutia’s strike partner Sunil Chhetri had a great game today as he made the Syrian defenders busy will his turns and dribbles.
In the first 15 minutes, India made a couple of threatening moves with Bhutia in the thick of action.
As early as the first minute itself, Bhutia got the better of Hamzeh Al Attouni but his left-footer was blocked by Syrian goalkeeper Mosab Balhous.
In the 19th minute, Dias got a clear look at the Syrian goal after a fine cross from the left by Anthony Pereira but only to see his shot being blocked by a defender.
Next minute it was the turn of the Syrians as Moutaz Kaildini’s left footer gone wide and then an Al Zino header went over the bar.
Courtesy : Times Of India