Talisman Sunil Chhetri equalled the iconic Lionel Messi with his 80th international strike as an inspired India blanked Nepal 3-0 for their eighth SAFF Championship title here on Saturday.
India extended their domination in the regional tournament thanks to second-half goals from Chhetri (49th minute), Suresh Singh (50th) and Sahal Abdul Samad (90th).
With his strike, the 37-year-old Chhetri equalled Messi and became the second-highest goal-scorer in international football among active players.
Suresh Singh and Saha then added to the tally and paved the way for India’s title triumph, a much-needed one after a series of mediocre outings.
Sahal made it 3-0 when he dribbled past a few defenders after receiving the ball on the left flank at the stroke of the final whistle.
India dominated possession in the first half but failed to break the deadlock. However, Chhetri put India ahead minutes into the second half and even before Nepal could down settle down, Suresh made it 2-0.
This is the Indian football team’s first title triumph under head coach Igor Stimac, who faced criticism in recent times for his side’s inability to win enough games.
However, when it mattered the most in this edition of the regional tournament, Stimac’s players delivered the results the team’s fans had been waiting for.
Stimac also became the third foreign coach after Jiri Pesek (1993) and Stephen Constantine (2015) to clinch the title with the Indian team