The vastly-improved Afghanistan were very much in the game till the 68th minute but a contentious penalty and a controversial red-card to goalkeeper Hameedullah Yousufzari by Singapore referee Sukhbir Singh ended the gritty Afghan’s fairy-tale journey in the tournament.
Sunil Chettri converted the penalty in the 71st and helped India to add two more through Clifford Miranda (79th), Jeje Lalpekhlua (80th) to crush Afghanistan. Substitute Sushil Singh (90+) struck in the injury time to end the game in style for the defending champions. Chettri emerged the top scorer with seven goals.
India bagged the winner’s purse of $50,000 while Afghanistan were richer by $25,000. All India Football Federation (AIFF) president Praful Patel also announced an additional Rs.1 lakh for the Indian players.
The nippy Afghans were clearly the better team and had the match in control till the 68th minute. But the penalty and the red-card to Yousufzari, for pushing the referee, proved the turning point.
For India the penalty was lucky as Jeje was fouled on the edge of the box by defender Faisal Safa. The decision infuriated the Afghan goalkeeper, who pushed the referee. Play was held up for three minutes as Yousufzari and coach Mohammed Yusuf Kargar furiously protested but their efforts were futile.
Chettri had to retake the penalty after his first attempt was cancelled for intrusion by Nirmal Chettri in the penalty box. The goal pepped up India and they went all out against Afghanistan.
In the next nine minutes, India added two more through Miranda and Jeje while Sushil Singh struck in the injury time as India retained the title.
India were even lucky to double the lead through Miranda as Afghanistan were playing with nine men since left-back Safa was receiving treatment on the sidelines. The Dempo midfielder was well set-up on the right with a good pass from Chettri and unleashed his right-footer that crashed into the net. In the next minute, Jeje was on target after being set-up by a precise pass from Chettri.
India, however, were under tremendous pressure in the first half as Afghanistan breached their defence right from the start. Afghanistan came close to open the scoring in the first minute after their Norway-based striker Belal Arezou ran into the box dispossessing Anthony Pereira but a good tackle by Gouramangi Singh saved India the blushes.
The Indians struggled to keep pace with the lively Afghanistan team with Arezou ripping apart the India defence. Afghanistan lacked finishing, or else they would have been the deserving champions.
India: Karanjit Singh; Syed Rahim Nabi, Mahesh Gawli, Nirmal Chettri, Gouramangi Singh; Clifford Miranda (Lalrindika Ralte, Climax Lawrence, Rocus Lamare 90+), Anthony Pereira (Steven Dias, 72); Sunil Chhetri (Sushil Singh, 84) and Jeje Lalepkhlua
Afghanistan: Hameedullah Yousufzari; Faisal Safa, Haroon Fakhrudin, Mohammad Esrafil, Yousef Mashriqi; Ata Yamir Ali, Djelaludin Sharityar, Ghulam Hazrat Abdul, Moqadar Faizullah; Belal Arezou and Sanjar Ahmadi (Masood Hashmi, 75)
Referee: Sukhbir Singh (Singapore)