The Indian boys defended their title in the SAFF U-16 Champions, beating Bangladesh 2-0 in a high-octane final here on Sunday to lift the cup for the fifth time in the tournament's history.
In the final, Bharat Lairenjam gave the Indian boys an early lead in the 8th minute and then Levis Zangminlun sealed victory in the 74th minute at the Changlimithang Stadium in the Bhutan capital.
Guided by head coach Ishfaq Ahmed, the Blue Colts had a sparkling run throughout the championship. They exhibited a mesmerising brand of free-flowing, attacking football that left opponents struggling.
India topped Group A after edging out Bangladesh and Nepal with 1-0 victories in both instances. Their semifinal clash with the Maldives was a masterclass in offence, resulting in an 8-0 triumph. Remarkably, the team accomplished all of this without conceding a single goal throughout the tournament.
In the final against Bangladesh, Ishfaq Ahmed's team displayed tactical prowess and control. With adept ball distribution and intelligent utilisation of available space, they effectively countered Bangladesh’s more physical style of play.
Key contributors like Mohammad Arbash, Vishal Yadav, and Levis Zangminlun penetrated the Bangladeshi defence with fluid runs and skilful dribbling, making it easier for India to dictate the tempo from start to finish.
India dominated the proceedings in the gripping contest while Bangladesh too made some good attacks as the game ebbed and flowed between the two ends of the pitch.
At the heart of India’s defence was the indomitable Karish Soram. Always alert, he fearlessly placed his body in the line of fire whenever the situation demanded. And when Bangladesh found a way past him, India goalkeeper Aheibam Suraj Singh stood like a rock, unyielding and resolute.
After a good start, Bharat Lairenjam went through into the Bangladesh box in the 8th minute and poked it home to give the defending champions the lead.
Bangladesh responded to India’s goal and got a chance to equalise but Mohammed Mursed Ali fluffed his lines. The forward beat the offside trap and took control of a through ball from Bangladesh captain Nazmul Huda Faysal. However, India goalkeeper Suraj Singh swiftly charged forward to cut down the angle, causing Ali to miss the target.
Throughout the first half, Lairenjam and India’s captain, Mate Ngamgouhou, consistently pressured the Bangladeshi defence, creating multiple scoring opportunities.
In the 34th minute, India earned a particularly promising chance. A long ball was lofted towards the Bangladesh penalty area, prompting Indian forward Mohammad Arbash to give chase. Recognising that Bangladeshi goalkeeper Nahidul Islam had ventured off his line to attempt a clearance, Arbash seized the moment. He skillfully attempted to head the ball over the onrushing keeper. However, Islam was quick to react, successfully punching the ball out of harm's way.
India had another chance in the 36th minute when Yaipharemba Chingkham sent in a low cross from the left and Bharat shot at the bottom corner, but his attempt was blocked in a melee of Bangladesh legs.
India started the second half with the same intensity.
In the 52nd minute, a foul against Mohammad Arbash got India a free kick outside the box. Mate Ngamgouhou took it but Bangladesh's defence managed to clear the danger.
In the 56th minute, Bharat Lairenjam seized the moment with a follow-up shot from the rebound, but it narrowly missed the target.
Six minutes later, Vishal Yadav unleashed a powerful shot from just outside the box but it sailed over the bar.
Their relentless search for another goal bore fruit in the 74th minute with a sublime strike.
Samson Ahongshangbam initiated a promising move down the left wing before expertly switching play to send the ball to Levis Zangminlun on the opposite flank. Engaging in a swift one-two pass with Vishal Yadav, Zangminlun outmaneuvered his defender to find himself in open space. Taking a moment to set himself, he then unleashed a devastating left-footed strike that sailed into the back of the net, doubling India’s advantage.
In the 85th minute, Bangladesh came close with multiple attempts but India's defence stayed strong and thwarted them and eventually won the match 2-0.