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Intercontinental Cup: Chhetri, Chhangte Drive India Past Lebanon 2-0 to Regain Title

Talismanic striker Sunil Chhetri scored his 87th international goal and fellow-forward Lallianzuala Chhangte added a second as India defeated the higher-ranked Lebanon 2-0 in the final to retain the Intercontinental Cup title at the Kalinga Stadium here on Sunday. Both the Indian goals came in the second half of the match as the hosts ended the tournament without conceding a goal.

With a huge crowd expected to turn out to support them, head coach Igor Stimac had promised a super Sunday, and his boys did everything to make sure their coach lived up to his assurance.

With a solid 2-0 win over Lebanon, the Indian men’s senior team clinched the Intercontinental Cup, adding to the title they won in the inaugural year in 2018.

In what was the first-ever tournament for the Blue Tigers in the Odisha capital, the fans were treated to a fantastic spectacle over the course of four matches, where India did not concede any goals en route to reclaiming the title they last won in 2018.

The honourable Chief Minister of Odisha, Naveen Patnaik announced a cash award of Rs. one crore for the Indian team for their fine showing in the Intercontinental Cup. The Odisha Chief Minister also presented the Intercontinental Cup trophy to champions India

A dominant India did all the damage in the second half as Chhetri found the net almost immediately after the restart, getting on the end of an incisive Indian attack from the right. Player of the Match Chhangte then doubled the advantage 20 minutes later with a simple tap-in.

As the winner, India earned a cheque of USD 50,000 while Lebanon got USD 25,000. Indian defender Sandesh Jhingan was declared the Hero of the Tournament and received a cheque of Rs 1.50 lakh.

India took the field with purpose and determination and had their foot on the gas pedal from the start as Lebanon struggled to string passes together and get out of their own half.

India launched the first attack as in the fifth minute, Chhetri sent a first-time cross on a loose ball which went millimetres over the head of Sahal Abdul Samad, who was lurking inside the six-yard box.

Ashique Kuruniyan, operating down the left wing, was proving tough for the visiting defence to deal with. He sniped a low ball into the box for Sahal, who went on a mazy run past red shirts before releasing a cutback from the by-line. However, the ball was cleared away by an outstretched Lebanese foot before Chhetri could get on the end of it.

Lebanon continued to threaten on the counter but could not find a way past the ever-so-solid Sandesh Jhingan, who was adjudged the Hero of the Tournament. In the 22nd minute, after winning the ball in the Indian half, Zein Farran darted forward on the right flank before feeding captain Hassan Maatouk, whose effort was bravely blocked by Jhingan.

Minutes before half-time, Soony Saad went for a rasping snapshot from long range which was safely palmed away by Gurpreet Singh Sandhu.

India made another fast start on the restart and this time, they made it count. Chhetri capitalised on a superb team effort, characterised by some magnificent interplay on the right wing, to break the deadlock with his 87th international strike.

Lallianzuala Chhangte picked out Nikhil Poojary near the touchline, who, sensationally, returned the ball to him with an exquisite backheel. The Mumbai City winger then sent a low ball across the face of the goal for Chhetri to swiftly tap it in through the legs of Sabeh from point-blank range.

Spurred on by the much-needed breakthrough and the incessant cheers of the 12-thousand-strong Kalinga crowd, India continued their search for the second goal. Jeakson Singh Thounaojam and Jhingan saw their headers go over the bar from two Thapa corners in quick succession.

There was no stopping the Indian wave as Chhangte made it 2-0 in the 65th minute. Chhetri fed Naorem Mahesh Singh, who had come on as a substitute just five minutes earlier, to have a crack at goal. His low shot was spilt by Sabeh, and Chhangte was the quickest to thump the rebound home.

From then on, it was simple game management from the Blue Tigers, who did not take any unwanted risks and remained alert at the back to preserve their two-goal lead. Perhaps the closest Lebanon came to scoring in the entire game was in the 80th minute when Maatouk skied Mahdi Zein’s cross from six yards out.

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