After a wait-and-see approach for the first 45 minutes, the Blue Colts decided to crack the whip in the second session and emerged the SAFF Men’s U19 champions with a vigorous 3-0 triumph over Pakistan at the Dashrath Stadium in Kathmandu on Saturday, September 30, 2023.
It was India’s eighth youth title in the SAFF championships, a clear testimony to their regional supremacy.
In a stunning display of talent and composure, substitute Manglenthang Kipgen once again emerged as the hero for the Indians. Following his nerve-wracking winning penalty strike against hosts Nepal in the semi-final on Wednesday, Kipgen continued to shine on the grand stage as he scored the first two goals to literally slam the doors on Pakistan’s ambitions. He arguably had no competitor in sight when he was awarded the Most Valuable Player of the Tournament.
Kipgen had a role to play in the third goal, too, as his clever chip resulted in Gwgwmsar Goyary scoring the third goal in the add-on time, thus sealing Pakistan’s fate in the tie, who were by then reduced to a 10-man team.
The India youngster’s impactful presence came to life when he was brought on as a substitute for Ebindas Yesudasan at the commencement of the second half, with the score still locked at 0-0. However, it didn’t prevent him from leaving an indelible mark on the match.
What also made this achievement all the more remarkable is that for the vast majority of the Indian squad, this SAFF U-19 Championship, marked their first international tournament representing the nation.
India were up against a well-organised Pakistani defence right from the start of the game. With Pakistan resorting to physical football, the Indians took time to settle down in the match. The Blue Colts had their first real opportunity in the 37th minute. Ebindas Yesudasan delivered a pass from midfield to Naoba Meitei Pangambam, but Pakistan defender Muhammad Azan quickly stepped in to intercept.
Unfortunately for Pakistan, Azan’s clearance was flawed, leading to the ball finding its way to Sahil Khurshid. However, the young Indian forward struggled to maintain his balance and couldn't generate enough power behind his shot. As a result, the attempt was easily gathered by Pakistan’s goalkeeper Sahil Gul.
The second half of the match brought about a remarkable shift in dynamics. India took control of the game, dictating the tempo with their passes and making effective use of the available space. Their dominance was evident right from the start, as they crafted an early chance. Unfortunately, Khurshid couldn’t capitalise on a cross, missing a golden opportunity to put India ahead.
Nonetheless, their assertive play signalled a promising turn of events and they ultimately took the lead in the 64th minute. The pivotal moment unfolded with Kipgen delivering a breathtaking goal from just beyond the box.
The sequence began with Kipgen’s attempt to set up a teammate within the box, only to have the pass blocked by Muhammad Azan. However, Kipgen seized the rebound. With precision and finesse, he unleashed a curling shot with his right foot that left the Pakistan defence in awe, propelling India into the lead.
In the 85th minute, Kipgen located a gap in Pakistan’s defensive wall and delivered a beautifully curled free-kick. What added to the spectacle was the clever move from another India substitute, Kelvin Singh Taorem, who made a run in front of the Pakistan defence. Pakistan goalkeeper Gul anticipated Taorem would take control of the free-kick, but Taorem exhibited a remarkable presence of mind and allowed the ball to pass through. This unexpected decision left Gul perplexed as the ball found its way into the back of the net and extended India’s lead.
India wrapped up the match in style in the fifth minute of added time when Kipgen’s well-directed cross was headed home by Gwgwmsar Goyary for his third goal in the tournament.
Pakistan were reduced to 10 men towards the end of the match when Ali Zafar was sent off for his second yellow card offence.
AIFF Media Release