India Stun Syria to Retain Nehru Cup

Abhishek Roy/IANS

New Delhi, Sept 1: Subrata Paul's awesome goalkeeping saw India overpower Syria 6-5 in a shootout to retain the Nehru Cup football title in a sensational match played out in front of an overflowing Ambedkar Stadium here monday.

Paul in an amazing display of reflexes and anticipation saved three spot kicks in the
tie-breaker after the two teams failed to score in regulation time and scored once each in the dying minutes of extra time.

Man-of-the-Match Paul, who had an outstanding tournament, blocked shots from Wael Ayan, Ahmad Haj Muhmad and Hamzeh Alattouni.

Paul fisted out the decisive attempt by Alattouni to spark a riotous invasion by a frenzied crowd. It came as a big relief for coach Bob Houghton as the twists and turns of the match captured his changing moods.

Climax Lawrence, Sunil Chettri, Steven Dias, Anwar and Surkumar Singh were on target for India in the tie-breaker while Raja Rafe, goalkeeper Mosab Balhous, Abdul Fatah Alaga and Abdal Razzak Al Hossian scored for Syria.

India appeared to have broken the the deadlock in the high-voltage clash when Renedy Singh scored through a free-kick in the 24th minute of extra time, but Ali Dyab came up with a stupendous header of' Raja Rafe's free-kick to sink Indian hopes of a clear-cut victory.

What followed next was the high drama culminating in Paul's brilliance under the bar. The Kolkata boy, who was discarded by both East Bengal and Mohun Bagan, showed why he is rated so highly by national coach Bob Houghton.

It was a a re-match of the 2007 final at the same venue where India had also won the AFC Challenge last year.

Both teams played out an exciting 90 minutes where they came close to open their account on numerous occasions.

Egged on by some 20,000 fans and Bollywood star Salman Khan, the hosts put up an inspiring performance and there seem to be hardly any difference between the 156th ranked India and 95th ranked Syrians.

In fact, India were the better team as they created more opportunities but they unfortunately lacked a finisher.

Skipper Bhaichung Bhutia and his striking partner Chettri were unlucky, as on their day they could have ended the game well within 90 minutes.

Bhutia was on target as early as in the second minute after he found a through pass and had just the goalie to beat but Balhous put on a stunning dive to thwart the attack.

Balhous had a busy first 10 minutes after both Bhutia and Chettri broke past the Syrian defence but failed to find the net.

Syrian forwards finally broke free after the half-hour mark as Alaga and Mohammed Alzino launched a flurry of attack to rattle the Indian defence but Paul stood solid.

After India failed to score, Houghton played his last trick by bringing in Renedy in the 101st minute in place of Anthony Pereira and the winger responded by firing in a swerving free-kick.

The roaring crowd fell into silence when Dyab came from nowhere to stun the defence with his header.

In the end, it was not enough for Syria as Paul proved to be the match-winner for the hosts.



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Title: India Stun Syria to Retain Nehru Cup

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