India failed to capitalised on the many chances that came their way and lost to Afghanistan 0-2 in the final of the 2013 SAFF Championship at the Dasrath stadium in Kathmandu on Wednesday.
A goal in each half, much against the run of play, put paid to their chances of retaining the crown they won in the last edition in Delhi two years ago when they humiliated the same opposition 4-0.
India had won the trophy six times in the first nine editions, failing to reach the semis only once.
It was one of those days when the ball wasn’t destined to enter the rival net despite all the domination, ball possession and penetration,
India began with a specific strategy -- stretching the playing arena as much as possible and attacking from the flanks – and Afghanistan were immediately on the defensive.
The trio of Arata Izumi, Mehtab Hossain and Francis Fernandes, well-supported by Lenny Rodrigues went past the Afghan defence a couple of times early in the match but were unable to finish.
Afghanistan went ahead from a counter offensive down the right in the eighth minute when Mustafa Azadzoy evaded goalkeeper Subrata Paul and tapped home.
Undeterred, the Indians continued to attack and came close to restoring parity in the 20th minute, but Robin Singh, preferred over Sunil Chhetri in the starting line-up, saw his powerful left-footer from just outside the goal arena sail narrowly over the crossbar.
Goalkeeper Mansur Fagiryar came to Afghanistan’s rescue three minutes later when he saved a blinder from Arata Izumi. He repeated the feat in the 32nd minute, stretching to palm off an Arata header off a Mehtab corner.
India continued to create chances but without success.
The story was the same in the second session as the Afghans defended doggedly.
Sunil Chhetri replaced Jeje Lalpekhlua in the 59th minute and his first-touch had the rival defence guessing. Playing a one-two with Francis, he beat the rival defence, only to be thwarted by goalkeeper Fagiryar.
Afghanistan then scored again off counter attack, this time Sanjar Ahmadi making the most of the opportunity in the 64th minute by lobbing the ball over goalkeeper Subrata Paul.
India pressed even harder thereafter but overturning a two-goal cushion against a side that had understandably gone defensive by then was too much a task.
Image: The Indian team before the start of the SAFF final against Afghanistan
Photograph: AIFF Media