India lifted the SAFF under-18 football championship for the first time, defeating Bangladesh 2-1 in the title clash here on Sunday.
India surged ahead in the second minute when Vikram Partap Singh sped past his marker and banged the ball in. The match-winner came in injury time as the nippy Ravi Bahadur Rana scored off a screamer from about 30 yards. Yeasin Arafat reduced the margin in the 40th minute.
Both teams were reduced to 10-men each in the 22nd minute when Gurkirat Singh and Md. Fahim were given the marching orders following a fight.
Bangladesh was further reduced to nine men in the 40th minute when skipper Yeasin was booked for a second yellow card for “illegitimate celebration” following the equaliser.
“I had maintained that it will take a moment of brilliance to end this SAFF Championship, and it was fitting that Ravi finished if off with a wonderful strike,” head coach Floyd Pinto said moments after the final whistle.
“We were not just the best footballing team in the tournament, but also the most effective team. I am really happy for the boys. They earned it,” he added. “The sacrifices, and the commitment of the boys was exemplary.”
India’s Ninthoinganba Meetei was adjudged the Most Valuable Player.
The All India Football Federation (AIFF) president Praful Patel congratulated the team. “The team improved with every match. It is double delight for Indian youth teams, especially after the U-16 qualified for the AFC Championships last week. Keep it up,” Patel said.
AIFF general secretary Kushal Das said: “The SAFF U-18 Championship had been eluding us. Congratulations to everyone. This triumph will add confidence prior to the AFC U-19 Qualifiers in November which is the ultimate test.”
The victory makes it sweeter with India also winning the SAFF U-15 Championship, beating Bangladesh in the final in August.
While the under-16 team qualified for the AFC U-16 Championships, the u-19 team will play the AFC Qualifiers in November in its quest to qualify for the AFC Finals.
“This is going to give us a huge boost for the AFC Championship and make us more confident as we prepare for it. Hopefully, we will be able to kick-off AFC Qualifiers in a good manner,” Floyd said. “I am very thankful to AIFF and SAI for their help in the exposure tours all throughout, and look forward to their support.”