Chhetri’s magic seals Hero Intercontinental Cup for India

India clinched the inaugural Hero Intercontinental Cup with a stunning 2-0 victory over Kenya at the Mumbai Football Arena on Sunday. A brace from captain Sunil Chhetri in the first-half was enough to tilt the match towards the Blue Tigers, who came back to defend resolutely in the second-half to ward off Kenya’s onslaught.

India got off to the perfect start when ‘Captain Fantastic’ Chhetri fired them into the lead as early as in the 8th minute. A clever free-kick from Anirudh Thapa from the right found an unguarded Chhetri, who did brilliantly to evade his marker and finish expertly into the bottom corner.

The Kenyans looked hapless in the first 25 minutes of the game and had no answer for the attacking prowess of the Blue Tigers. Chhetri then doubled India’s lead in the 28th minute with another clinical finish. The 33-year-old chested down a long ball before poking the ball past Kenya custodian Patrick Matasi with his weaker left foot.

Meanwhile, the midfielder duo of Thapa and Pronay Halder were dominating the battle at the centre of the pitch, winning almost every duel and controlling the tempo of the game. The frustrated Kenyans soon resorted to restless challenges which saw their captain Mohammed Musa being awarded a yellow card for a cynical challenge on Thapa. That proved to be the last piece of action from the first half as India went into the break with a two-goal cushion.

Kenya had the first big chance of the second half when John Makwata was given space to tap the ball home from the six-yard box. However, a stunning last-ditch challenge from defender Pritam Kotal ensured that the scoreline didn’t change. As the second half wore on, the Harambee Stars started imposing themselves on the pitch with the Blues having to set up camp in their own half to restrict them. The Indian defence remained firm and the Kenyans had to resort for shots from distance, scarcely troubling Gurpreet Singh Sandhu in goal.

Their relentless threats seemed to have reaped dividends in the 77th minute when a delicate free-kick from Ovella Ochieng seemed to be heading into the top corner, but Gurpreet produced a stunning acrobatic save to see away the danger. Stephen Constantine’s men, however, managed to hold their line to see away the rest of the 90 minutes and cap-off a stunning tournament with a well-deserved trophy.

Starting XI:

INDIA: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu (GK), Pritam Kotal, Sandesh Jhingan, Anas Edathodika, Subhasish Bose, Pronay Halder, Anirudh Thapa, Udanta Singh, Sunil Chhetri (C), Halicharan Narzary, Jeje Lalpekhlua. 

KENYA: Patrick Matasi (GK), Jockens Atudo, Erick Otieno, Mike Kibwage, Musa Mayeko (C), Bernard Oginga, Patilah Omoto, Dennis Odhiambo, Ovella Ochieng, Pistone Mutamba, Kenny Muguna.

Hero of the Match: Sunil Chhetri

Hero of the Tournament: Sunil Chhetri

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