Intercontinental Cup: Chhetri brace leads India to title

Sunil Chhetri achieved a personal landmark on the night as India blanked Kenya 2-0 to lift the Intercontinental cup.

Udanta Singh celebrates with India skipper Sunil Chhetri after he scored the first goal against Kenya in the Hero International Cup at MFA   -  PTI

 

If there's one Indian footballer who can deliver every time you need him to, it has to be Sunil Chhetri. Period. Making his 102nd appearance for the nation, the charismatic captain struck a stunning brace to lead India to a 2-0 win over Kenya and clinch the Intercontinental Cup in remarkable fashion.

Chhetri's brace at the Mumbai Football Arena on Sunday took his career tally to 64 goals, putting him on par with Lionel Messi as the joint-second highest active international goalscorer. The striker has scored eight goals in the Intercontinental Cup, the most number of goals he has scored in an international tournament.

Cheered on by a full-throated capacity stadium, the Indians simply outclassed their opponents on the night. Gurpreet Singh kept his clean sheet record intact in the tournament by pulling off some sharp saves, while the attacking duo of Chhetri and Jeje Lalpekhlua constantly intruded the Kenyan box.

The Blue Tigers got off to an impeccable start when Chhetri found the back of the net in the eighth minute off a move that simply oozed class. Having earned a free-kick just outside the box, Anirudh Thapa whipped a pinpoint ground pass to an unmarked Chhetri, who pummelled his first time attempt into the net and wheeled away in celebration.

The Kenyans had their share of chances, with Ochieng Ovella constantly badgering the Indian defenders, but the side simply lacked the finishing touch. Their aerial ball approach didn't click as the Indian defenders were almost always there to thwart them away.

The second goal of the evening came in the 29th minute when Chhetri converted a long ball from Anas Edathodika to double the home side's lead. Anas played an exquisite lob down the centre and Chhetri controlled the ball with his chest and unleashed a powerful left-footer past a flummoxed Patrick Matasi, sending the packed stadium into a tizzy.

The Harambee Stars started the second half on an attacking note, registering two attempts on goal in as many minutes, but it failed to bear fruit.

Constantine made a double change in the 61st minute and brought on Balwant Singh and Rowlin Borges in place of Jeje and Holicharan Narzary. Looking to switch things up and boost the defence, the Englishman also tweaked the formation a bit by playing Balwant as the lone striker while Chhetri and Thapa fell back.

Gurpreet pulled off a stunning save in the 77th minute when he acrobatically stretched to stop an Ochieng strike that was destined for the right top corner. That was the last real threat the Kenyans posed and the Indians comfortably held on to their two-goal lead to seal the title.

RESULT: India 2 (Chhetri 8', 29') Kenya 0