India’s most valuable players at the Hero Intercontinental Cup
The inaugural Hero Intercontinental Cup came to a fitting conclusion on Sunday with India emerging as the champions after a hard fought 2-0 victory over Kenya in the finals at the Mumbai Football Arena. The tournament, organised by the All India Football Federation (AIFF), was a valuable opportunity for India’s head coach Stephen Constantine to assess the strength of his squad ahead of the AFC Asian Cup 2019.
Several players took the opportunity by the scruff of the neck. Here, we look at some of the best performers from the Indian contingent, who grabbed eyeballs far and wide.
Adjectives will fall short if we want to describe this absolute legend. The kind of impact that Sunil Chhetri had had on the national team, both on and off the pitch, is second to none. Although his emotional video on social media urging sports lovers to support the national football team dominated headlines and led to tickets being sold out within days, his performances on the pitch were almost unparalleled. The Bengaluru FC captain, who completed his 100th international cap against Kenya, now has 64 international goals to his name. Chhetri also broke his longest goal-scoring streak of six games, which he had previously held in 2011.
The Indian captain was awarded the ‘Hero of the Tournament’ owing to his outstanding displays, where he finished with eight goals to his name from four games - his best return in an international tournament.
Gurpreet Singh Sandhu
Few will argue that Gurpreet Singh was the finest goalkeeper at the Hero Intercontinental Cup. The lanky shot-stopper kept a clean sheet in all the three games which he featured in – a true indicator of his command between the sticks. The Bengaluru FC keeper marshalled his defence to perfection and made some brilliant saves during crucial stages of the tournament to ensure the strikers could wreak havoc up front.
His finest moment came in the Final, when he produced a stunning acrobatic save to deny Kenya attacker Ovella Ochieng from scoring from a free-kick. That was just a small glimpse of what the 26-year-old is capable of, and will be a great boost to India’s preparations ahead of the AFC Asian Cup 2019.
Subhasish Bose continued his stellar form from the 2017-18 campaign into the tournament. The young defender was instrumental in Bengaluru FC’s run to the finals of the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) 2017-18, before playing a crucial role in their Hero Super Cup triumph. His performances throughout the season merited a call-up to the national side and led to his debut against Chinese Taipei. Alongside Sandesh Jhingan, Anas Edathodika and Pritam Kotal in defence, Bose was part of a side that kept three clean sheets in four games.
The 22-year-old, who recently signed for Mumbai City FC, found place in the starting XI of every game and showed his maturity in each one of them. He was calm and composed at the back, preventing the occasion from getting the better of him. If he can continue his brilliant performances for club and country, he could very well find himself on the flight to UAE.
The 20-year-old Chennaiyin FC midfielder Anirudh Thapa was India’s creative spark throughout the tournament. Called up in the squad by Constantine after an inspiring Hero ISL season, the young prodigy formed an effective partnership with Pronay Halder in midfield and aided his strikers in attack. His chemistry with Chhetri and Jeje Lalpekhlua was pivotal to India’s attacking prowess as they scored a total of 11 goals in four games.
Thapa was also given the responsibility of taking corners and free kicks, and he delivered to the tee. He has two assists to his name, with one of them coming in the Final, where he partnered up with Chhetri to take the Kenyan defence by surprise and drive India’s opener.
Pronay Halder’s displays at the centre of the park were heralded by the Indian contingent, especially given his tough tackling and tireless running. After a lengthy absence from the national squad, Halder replaced Rowllin Borges as the holding midfielder in the starting line-up. Constantine’s gamble paid off rich dividends as the 25-year-old put in vital performances against Chinese Taipei and Kenya.
The midfielder also scored a complete scorcher during the 5-0 demolition against Chinese Taipei. Halder picked up the ball outside the box, before curling it into the top corner - a truly sensational effort, which also rung in his debut international goal.