India defeats Bangladesh, clinches SAFF U-18 C’ship title

Ravi Bahadur Rana scores the winning goal — a “moment of brilliance” — in injury time. Ninthoinganba Meetei is adjudged the most valuable player of the tournament.

A feather in the cap: The Indian team with the title. Photo: AIFF Media

The Indian U-18 football team clinched the SAFF U-18 Championship title for the first time by defeating Bangladesh U-18s 2-1 in the final in Kathmandu on Sunday.

The first of India’s two goals was scored in the second minute, and the second late in injury time. Vikram Partap Singh opened the scoring by speeding past his marker and banging the ball in. Bangladesh equalised in the 40th minute, Yeasin Arafat scoring the goal. The winner was a screamer from about 30 years scored by the nippy Ravi Bahadur Rana.

‘Moment of brilliance’

“I had maintained that it will take a moment of brilliance to end this SAFF Championship, and it was fitting that Ravi finished if off with a wonderful strike,” Floyd Pinto, India’s head coach, said after the final whistle. “We were not just the best footballing team in the tournament, but also the most effective team. I am really happy for the boys. They earned it. The sacrifices, and the commitment of the boys was exemplary,” he added.

Both teams were reduced to 10 men each in the 22nd minute when Gurkirat Singh and Md. Fahim were sent off following a melee. Bangladesh was further reduced to nine men in the 40th minute when Yeasin, the Bangladesh captain, was booked for a second yellow card for his illegitimate celebration following the equaliser.

India’s Ninthoinganba Meetei was adjudged the Most Valuable Player of the tournament.

‘Double delight’

Praful Patel, the All India Football Federation president, said, “Congratulations to everyone. The team improved with every match. It’s double delight for Indian youth teams especially after the U-16 qualified to AFC Championships last week. Keep it up.”

Kushal Das, AIFF general secretary, said, “The SAFF U-18 Championship had been eluding us. Congratulations to everyone. This triumph will add confidence prior to the AFC U-19 Qualifiers in November which is the ultimate test.”

This is one more title in India’s kitty after August, 2019, when it clinched the SAFF U-15 Championship title with the U-15 team. Bangladesh was defeated in the final on that occasion, too.

‘Huge boost’

While the U-16 team went on to qualify for the AFC U-16 Championships, the U-19 team will play the AFC Qualifiers in November in its quest to qualify for the AFC Finals.

“This is going to give us a huge boost for the AFC Championship, and make us more confident as we prepare for it. Hopefully, we will be able to kick-off AFC Qualifiers in a good manner. I am very thankful to AIFF and SAI for their help in the exposure tours all throughout, and look forward to their support,” Floyd explained.

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