MUMBAI: India beat Kenya to clinch the title in the 2018 Intercontinental Cup at Mumbai Football Arena on Sunday.
Skipper Sunil Chhetri continued his brilliant form scoring two exquisite goals in the first-half to inspire India to a 2-0 victory in the final.
The performance was a perfect response by Stephen Constantine’s men, who have come under scrutiny after their 2-1 loss against New Zealand in their last league game.
Constantine, who decided to rest some of his key players against the All Whites, named the strongest possible side for the final with Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Anas Edathodika, Sandesh Jhingan, Pronoy Halder, Udanta Singh, Halicharan Narzary and Jeje Lalpekhlua all handed starts.
On the other hand, Constantine’s counterpart, Sebastian Migne made two changes to the starting line-up that faced Chinese Taipei, with Kenneth Muguna and Bernard Olinga replacing Miheso Cliffton and Duncan Otieno respectively.
India enjoy ball possession from the early stages of the game as they looked for an early goal in the game. The first clear chance came in the 5th minute when Jeje received a long ball from midfield, but had been flagged for offside as it looked the Mizo striker was through.
The Blue Tigers’ blistering start was to pay dividends in the 8th minute when Chhetri showed great composure to slot past Patrick Matasi from Anirudh Thapa’s free-kick.
India then took control of the match and looked dangerous every time they pushed forward and Udanta tried to curl the ball into the top corner, but Matasi produced a fine save to deny the winger.
Meanwhile, Harambee Stars continued to commit defensive mistakes and they were again punished by Chhetri, who pounced on to a long ball from the back by Jhingan and beat Matasi from close range to make it 2-0 to India just before the half-hour mark.
India thereafter continued to dominate proceedings creating multiple chances but Kenya contained the rampant Blue Tigers until the Sri Lankan referee blew the half-time whistle and the score was 2-0 to the home side.
Changing over, the Harambee Stars were shocked back into action and began to control the momentum of the game with Ovella Ochieng was able to force Gurpreet into a great save with a long-range shot in the 53rd minute.
Gurpreet had more work to do seven minutes later as he had to come off his line to clear when defender Jockins Otieno was through.
India defended too deep as they looked to launch counter attacks but Kenya nearly scored through substitute John Makwata, whose effort narrowly missed the target in the 74th minute.
Thereafter, the Harambee Stars were on top of their game and dominated their opponents in the ensuing minutes, but India did well to protect their gains and emerged champions.