Captain Sunil Chhetri, as is his wont, rose to the occasion with his 87th international goal as India won the Intercontinental Cup with a 2-0 victory over Lebanon in the final here on Sunday.
Lallianzuala Chhangte struck the evening’s other goal to cap an impressive display.
This is India’s second title triumph in the tournament, following their win in the inaugural edition in 2018. Korea won in 2019.
In the last leg of his career, the 38-year-old Chhetri found the back of the net in the 46th minute of the title clash, breaking the deadlock right after play resumed after a goalless first half.
Buoyed by the lead and backed by a near-capacity crowd at the Kalinga Stadium, India consolidated their position when Lallianzuala Chhangte, the provider of the first goal, found the target in the 66th minute, leaving the fans delighted and their 99-ranked opponents stunned.
In hot and humid conditions, both the teams had their fair share of chances in the first half but could not make use of them, just like the goalless stalemate they played out in an inconsequential match two days ago.
And while India had more possession of the ball — nearly 58 percent — the Lebanese had seven shots at goal as compared to three by the home team which again seemed to be lacking in ideas in the opponent’s final third.
However, all that changed after the half-time break.
First a charging Chhangte surged into the box and cut it back for Chhetri, who calmly tapped the ball in past the Lebanese goalkeeper Ali Sabeh from close for the opener. The goal was a result of an excellent build-up as Nikhil Poojary managed to slip in the ball through little space to Chhangte who then laid it for his inspirational skipper.
Their tails up after the opener, the Indians looked to press home the advantage and they wre rewarded with a second goal through Chhangte.
Having received a ball from Chhetri, substitute Naorem Mahesh Singh attempted to put it past the Lebanese custodian, who saved it but could not keep the ball with him. Off the rebound, Chhangte converted to double India’s lead.
Earlier, the Blue Tigers started on a positive note and were on the lookout for goals but could not convert the few chances that came their way.
On the sixth minute, Ashique Kuruniyan was brought down inside the Lebanese box and the home team instantly appealed for a penalty but the referee was not interested, leaving even India head coach Igor Stimac furious.
India found themselves in a spot when Lebanon tried to hit on the counter, but Ashique committed a foul, took a yellow card for the team’s sake, and prevented the visitors from charging towards the India goal.
In hot and humid conditions, the teams needed two cooling breaks.