Indian forward Lallianzuala Chhangte said that the Blue Tigers winning the Intercontinental Cup title was the perfect result of the team’s hard work and that they “deserve” it.
“I think we started really well. We have been working really hard these few weeks and we deserve this. It will boost our confidence going into the Asian Cup and the win will motivate us for the SAFF Cup as well,” Chhangte told reporters in the mixed zone after the win.
India faced Lebanon in the Intercontinental Cup final, an opponent it had not beaten since 1977, with their most recent clash ending as a goalless draw in the last round of matches of the same tournament.
With goals from Sunil Chhetri and Lallianzuala Chhangte, India secured a comfortable 2-0 win to clinch the title.
“We were up against a very good team. The last few matches they played, they were very good,” Chhangte said. “But we kept on fighting, did not give up and pressed high up the pitch. I think tonight we got what we deserve,” Chhangte said.
A win for the fans
The Mumbai City forward had played a crucial role in India’s win against Mongolia in the tournament-opener, scoring in the 15th minute and was directly involved in both goals in the final.
With the win in the Intercontinental Cup, it was India’s second silverware in three months, having won the Tri-Nations tournament in Manipur in March. The 26-year-old dedicated this win to the 12, 600 fans who had turned up at the Kalinga Stadium on Sunday.
“It’s (the win) a blessing from God. I will dedicate this win to all the fans who came here to support us,” he said.
“The fans were amazing. I think, without them supporting us, we wouldn’t be able to do so much. So, thank you to everyone who came here and hopefully, Indian football will grow much more in the future.”
The ‘Sunil Chhetri’ effect
India’s captain Sunil Chhetri has played 11 tournament finals and won nine of them. In eight of those matches, Chhetri scored.
Sunday’s clash was no different. The No. 11, aged 38, continued to be the perfect fox in the box when Chhangte, receiving a pass from Nikhil Poojary, crossed in the centre and Chhetri struck, giving India the lead.
After the hour mark, Chhetri set up Naorem Mahesh Singh, whose shot – first saved by Lebanon goalkeeper Ali Sabeh – was struck into the net by Chhangte.
“We’ve been learning a lot of things from him, on and off the pitch, especially on the training pitch and today I was so happy to give an assist for him,” Chhangte said.
“I think especially in the match, he kept pushing us. If you watched the match carefully, he kept on shouting at us and encouraging us. That’s what gave us confidence.”
Chhetri himself had earlier talked about the need to create a learning ecosystem.
“I’m not exactly sure how I quantify my influence on the young players but I genuinely try to be a good example, try to do small things right, be on time, be a good professional on and off the pitch. And hope some of the young ones will follow,” he had said.
“We just try to make a good ecosystem where everyone understands the basic requirements of being in the national camp.”
India will look to put the result behind as soon as possible with the SAFF Championship scheduled to begin within two days. Entering the tournament as the defending champion, India is drawn with Pakistan, Nepal and Kuwait.
“I think we can go into the next tournament full of confidence. To be honest, there are going to be good teams in there (in the SAFF Cup),” Chhangte said, “But we will approach every game with the same mentality as we did here, in the last four games and we hope we win that as well.”
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