New Delhi: Captain Sunil Chhetri played a pivotal role as India beat Afghanistan 2-1 in extra-time to win the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Cup for the seventh time on Sunday at Thiruvananthapuram.
Chhetri scored the winner in the 101th minute as the score remained 1-1 in regulation time. Zubayr Amiri scored the first goal of the match in the 69th minute, but India's semi-final hero Jeje Lalpekhlua equalised within a minute.
Playing in the 10th final, India failed to hit the winner in regulation time, with Jeje finding the word-work twice.
After Chhetri's goal, Afghanistan increased the tempo with a series of attacks from either flanks. But a resolute Indian defence stood firm to deny them, including multiple calls of handball inside the Indian box.
Under the bar, a brilliant Gurpreet Singh Sandhu produced many saves to give India the confidence and purpose.
Afghanistan, with as many as 15 of their players, plying their trade in foreign countries, were the favourites. But Stephen Constantine's outfit played with vigour and were the better side.
Constantine fielded the same XI from the semi-final win, while Petar Segrt opted to rest influential Khaibar Amani, who plays in Germany.
The win is India's first title after 2011, and it will give Constantine a major boost in his second stint with the team. Besides, victory over a higher ranked team mean sizeable FIFA ranking points for India.
This is the last time Afghanistan are taking in the competition, as they have been moved to the Central Asian Football Association, where they will compete with the likes of power houses Iran and Uzbekistan.