After a wait-and-see approach for the first 45 minutes, the Blue Colts decided to crack the whip in the second session and emerged as the SAFF Men’s U19 champions with a vigorous 3-0 triumph over Pakistan at the Dashrath Stadium in Kathmandu on Saturday.
It was India’s eighth youth title in the SAFF championships.
Substitute Manglenthang Kipgen once again emerged as the hero for the Indians. Following his nerve-wracking winning penalty strike against host Nepal in the semifinal on Wednesday, Kipgen scored the first two goals to slam the doors on Pakistan’s ambitions.
Kipgen had a role to play in the third goal, too, as his clever chip resulted in Gwgwmsar Goyary scoring the third goal in the add-on time, thus sealing Pakistan’s fate in the tie, which was by then reduced to a 10-man team.
Kipgen was brought on as a substitute for Ebindas Yesudasan at the commencement of the second half, with the score still locked at 0-0.
What made India’s win more remarkable was the fact that the tournament was the first international assignment for a vast majority of the squad.
India was up against a well-organised Pakistani defence right from the start of the game. With Pakistan resorting to physical football, the Indians took time to settle down.
The Blue Colts had their first opportunity in the 37th minute. Yesudasan delivered a pass from midfield to Naoba Meitei Pangambam, but Pakistan defender Muhammad Azan quickly stepped in to intercept.
But Azan’s clearance was flawed, leading to the ball finding its way to Sahil Khurshid. However, the young Indian forward struggled to maintain his balance and couldn’t generate enough power behind his shot. As a result, the attempt was easily gathered by Pakistan’s goalkeeper Sahil Gul.
The second half of the match brought about a remarkable shift in dynamics as India took control of the game, dictating the tempo with its passes and making effective use of the available space.
Its dominance was evident right from the start, as it crafted an early chance. Unfortunately, Khurshid couldn’t capitalise on a cross, missing a golden opportunity to put India ahead.
Nonetheless, its assertive play signalled a promising turn of events and it ultimately took the lead in the 64th minute. The pivotal moment unfolded with Kipgen delivering a breathtaking goal from just beyond the box.
The sequence began with Kipgen’s attempt to set up a teammate within the box, only to have the pass blocked by Muhammad Azan.
However, Kipgen seized the rebound. With precision and finesse, he unleashed a curling shot with his right foot that left the Pakistan defence in awe, propelling India into the lead.
In the 85th minute, Kipgen located a gap in Pakistan’s defensive wall and delivered a beautifully curled free-kick. What added to the spectacle was the clever move from another India substitute, Kelvin Singh Taorem, who made a run in front of the Pakistan defence.
Pakistan goalkeeper Gul anticipated Taorem would take control of the free-kick, but the latter exhibited a remarkable presence of mind and allowed the ball to pass through. This unexpected decision left Gul perplexed as the ball found its way into the back of the net and extended India’s lead.
India wrapped up the match in style in the fifth minute of added time when Kipgen’s well-directed cross was headed home by Goyary for his third goal in the tournament.
Pakistan was reduced to 10 men towards the end of the match when Ali Zafar was sent off for his second yellow card offence.
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