Goalkeeper Paul is India's hero
Goalkeeper Subrata Paul's heroics were the highlight of a dramatic summit clash as defending champions India beat Syria 6-5 via the tie-breaker to win the five-nation Nehru Cup international football Tournament at the Ambedkar Stadium in Delhi on Monday night.
Paul conjured up a special performance, saving as many as three penalty shots, as India emerged triumphant in the penalty shoot-out following a 1-1 deadlock at the end of full-time and 30 minutes of extra-time.
Image: Indian players celebrate winning the Nehru Cup
Hat-trick of titles under coach Houghton
Backed by a vociferous 20,000 crowd that also included Bollywood actor Salman Khan, India appeared to have the match wrapped up after second-half substitute Renedy Singh, who later failed to scored in the penalty shoot-out, struck in the 114th minute. But Syrian midfielder Weal Ayan equalised with a header in the last minute of extra-time time (120th minute) to take the tie to the shoot-out.
The second consecutive top finish in the tournament also marked a hat-trick of titles in just over two years by India, under coach Bob Houghton.
India had won the tournament in 2007 and added another title by clinching the AFC Challenge Cup last year, which gave the country a berth in the 2011 Asian Cup in Doha.
The win by Houghton's boys also meant that India became only the third country in the history of the Nehru Cup to defend the title after the then USSR (1985, 86, 87) and Iraq (1995, 96).
Image: India striker NP Pradeep (left) fights for the ball against Syria's Feras Ismail
I am very happy for them: Houghton
Apart from the $40,000 prize-money, each member of the team, including the support staff, will be rewarded Rs 200,000 each. Goalkeeper Subrata Paul and skipper Baichung Bhutia will each receive special awards of Rs 5000,000.
"It is a good group of boys. They give a hundred per cent in training and while playing. Actually, they back each other and play for each other. I am very happy for them," said coach Houghton after the triumph.
"It is a pity that Renedy Singh scored a great goal but missed the penalty kick. That is football," he added.
Image: India captain Baichung Bhutia gets the ball past a few Syria defenders
'Team has to improve on dead-ball situations'
Captain Baichung Bhutia said if the team improves on dead-ball situations, other top Asian countries will struggle to beat them.
"We have been working on not conceding goals from set pieces but against Lebanon, and then twice against Syria, we conceded goals from dead ball situation. We have to improve upon this.
"If we do that then I think any Asian side will find it difficult to beat us," he added.
Image: India goalkeeper Subrata Paul
Bhutia named tournament's best player
On India winning the title for the second consecutive time, Bhutia said, "We won today under dramatic circumstances. We should have finished the game without going to the penalty shoot-out.
"But conceding a goal in the last minute of extra time and then recovered in the penalty shootout to win it showed a lot of characters," said Bhutia who was declared player of the tournament.
"Our aim is to do well in 2011 AFC Asian Cup and today's will be a big boost to our morale," he added.
Image: India captain Baichung Bhutia