SAFF U-17 Championship: India reinforce regional dominance with fourth crown 

The Indian under-17 men’s football team thrashed Nepal 4-0 in the final to become the first team to successfully defend a junior SAFF crown.

By Utathya Nag
Picture by All India Football Federation

Heading into Wednesday’s SAFF U-17 Championship 2022 final against Nepal in Colombo, Sri Lanka, the Bibiano Fernandes-coached Indian football team could hardly be considered as favourites.

After all, Nepal had already beaten 3-1 in the group stages and the Dragons were coming into the final fixture with a spotless record - three wins in three. Their run included a 6-0 drubbing of hosts Sri Lanka in the semis.

If the form of Nepal wasn’t challenging enough, Indian captain Vanlalpeka Guite and his boys had another worrying piece of statistics playing against them. No team in history of SAFF U-17 championships had ever successfully defended the junior SAFF crown and India were the reigning champions, having won the 2019 edition.

However, as the dust settled at the Racecourse International Stadium in Colombo, the Boys in Blue had broken the trend, and in style.

Goals from Boby Singh, Korou Singh, Vanlalpeka Guite and Aman propelled India to a comfortable 4-0 win as the Nepalese, who had looked unbeatable leading up to the match, were left distraught on the pitch.

Nepal hardly got a look in during the match and the frustration clearly reflected as their captain Prashant Laksam got sent off in the first half itself.

“I am extremely proud of my boys. There has been a lot of hard work put in, and every support staff, and player deserves equal credit,” head coach Bibiano Fernandes said after the victory.

Running since 2011, this was the seventh edition of the junior SAFF Championship (played in the under-16 format from 2011 to 2015 and under-15 format from 2017 to 2019). 

With Wednesday’s victory, India clinched four of the seven titles on offer, in 2013, 2017, 2019 and 2022. Pakistan (2011) and Bangladesh (2015 and 2018) are the other champions.

There were individual accolades in tow as well with India captain Vanlalpeka Guite named as the Most Valuable Player of the Tournament and Sahil winning the Best Goalkeeper award.

Considering Indian football’s ambitions of becoming one of the top teams in Asia over the next few decades, laying a solid foundation is paramount and it starts with establishing an unquestionable dominance in the SAFF region. Bibiano Fernandes and Co.’s victory on Wednesday was certainly a huge step towards that goal.

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