Mumbai: Inspirational Indian captain Sunil Chhetri scored a brace to put himself on par with Lionel Messi and lead the home side to Intercontinental Cup title triumph with a 2-0 win over Kenya in the summit clash here today.
Playing in his 102nd international match, Chhetri struck in the eighth and 29th minutes to hand a dominant India the trophy to the wild celebration of the home fans at the Mumbai Football Arena here.
The 33-year-old Chhetri’s double strike capped a brilliant tournament which saw him score eight out of India’s 11 goals and put him on par with Argentine superstar Messi with 64 strikes for the country to be the joint second highest international goal scorer among active players.
He had scored three against Chinese Taipei, two each against Kenya in the league game and the final today and one against New Zealand.
Chhetri gave India the lead off a set-piece, assisted by Anirudh Thapa. Kenyan defender Bernard Oginga gave away a silly free-kick to India for a high-boot on Chhetri after a throw-in by Pritam Kotal. The 20-year-old Thapa took the free-kick just outside the box and Chhetri connected the ball into the left corner of the net.
The talismanic Indian captain doubled the lead just before the half-hour mark. Anas Edathodika lofted the ball to Chhetri who controlled the ball nicely on his chest between Kenyan defenders Jockins Atudo and Micheal Kibwage before firing in a low left-footer from inside the box which gave absolutely no chance to keeper Patrick Matasi.
Chhetri had a chance to make it 3-0 and score another hat-trick but he shot over the bar off a free-kick in the 43rd minute. At the half-way stage, India were 2-0 ahead.
The star for India in the second half was their custodian Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, who ensured a clean sheet with some of his diving and breath-taking saves.
In the 46th minute came Kenya’s best chance when Ovella Ochieng took a shot from a distance but Gurpreet made a diving save and the rebound went over the bar.
Chances kept coming for Kenya, but they were not able to convert them. In the 60th minute, Ochieng launched another long-ranger but Gurpreet came to the rescue as he pushed the ball back to be cleared by his defenders.
Whenever it looked like Kenya had a chance, Gurpreet stood in their way. In the 76th minute, Ochieng hit from outside the box off a free-kick, but the India custodian palmed it away.
The Indian defence, which was shaky in their 1-2 loss against New Zealand, was solid today as they kept the Kenyan strikers at bay. Especially, Holicharan Nazary and Sandesh Jhingan were simply outstanding.
India were back as a full strength side for the final after the head coach Stephen Constantine effected seven changes in the last league game against New Zealand, which they lost 1-2.
Australia refuse to tour Pakistan for proposed ODI matches, cite safety concerns
Melbourne: Australia has turned down Pakistan Cricket Board’s request to play two One Day International (ODI) matches in the country, citing security concerns. The PCB had asked Cricket Australia to play two of the five ODIs, which are slated to be played in UAE, in Pakistan, but security concerns made Cricket Australia decide against the same.
According to The Sydney Morning Herald, though the proposal has been rejected by the Australian cricket board, it has assured the PCB that they would be open to the idea in the future.
“We want to see international cricket return to Pakistan – the country has a huge passion for it,” said a CA spokesperson.
“However, the safety of our players and support staff is our number one priority and we won’t compromise that. We’ll continue to take advice from a range of government agencies and our own security intelligence and act on this accordingly.”
“At this stage, from an Australia team perspective, we are not contemplating moving our current bilateral-tour arrangements from taking on Pakistan in the UAE, when they host the next series but we do remain open to the idea of playing in the country again. We formally advised the PCB of this position in early January,” he added.
The PCB has in return, declined reports of Australia refusing to tour Pakistan, terming negotiations with Cricket Australia (CA) as currently ‘open and ongoing’.
Australia have not played an away series against Pakistan since 1998 which PCB chairman Ehsan Mani had attempted to address during the former’s recent Test series against the Asian side.
Mani attempted to convince CA chief executive Kevin Roberts to schedule an away series against Pakistan, urging them to follow the lead of Sri Lanka, West Indies and Zimbabwe who had toured the nation since 2017.
Sri Lanka’s return was hailed as a major boost considering the deadly attack on their players in Lahore in 2009.
Australian ODI captain Aaron Finch and Pakistan-born Usman Khawaja have recently expressed a desire to tour Pakistan, in case the security concerns were addressed.
“Obviously, whatever Cricket Australia tells us, that’ll be the big thing. We’ll leave it to the administrators. They’re pretty good at taking care of us and making sure everything’s safe,” said Khawaja.
“I was born in Pakistan so it won’t be too different for me, but it’s still a while away,” he added.
Federer ponders over his ‘miraculous’ career after Murray’s early retirement prospect
London: As the tennis world continued to digest the prospect of Andy Murray`s retirement, an evergreen Roger Federer pondered the “luck” of his longevity on Sunday ahead of his bid for a hat-trick of Australian Open titles.
Murray`s announcement that Melbourne Park could be his last tournament as a professional has made 37-year-old Federer`s career seem all the more miraculous.
Seeking a 21st Grand Slam title and a record seventh in Melbourne, the Swiss will plough into his 20th consecutive Australian Open on Monday with a first round clash against Uzbek Denis Istomin.
While suffering an assortment of niggles common to all hardened professionals, Federer`s only major layoff came in 2016, after he tore his meniscus when running a bath for his twin daughters.
It happened a day after losing the Australian Open semi-final to winner Novak Djokovic, but a year later, he was back raising a fifth trophy at the tournament.
While knowing the limits of his body and full of praise for his team for being able to patch him up repeatedly, Federer admitted that fortune had played a part in his longevity.
“I definitely needed a little bit of luck,” he told reporters at Melbourne Park.
“If you look at how unlucky things were with the incident here a few years ago when I ran the bath, I guess the knee, that part of the body was ready to go.
“Could have happened easily in the match against Novak, but it didn`t, maybe because I was warmed up. I have no idea what happened. I think you also need a little bit of luck.”
The 31-year-old Murray has been far less fortunate, with major hip surgery a year ago doing nothing to stop the pain that has driven the Scot to distraction and the brink of retirement.
Barcelona on lookout for striker after Munir sale: Coach Ernesto
London: Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said that the club were looking to sign a centre forward in the January transfer window after selling Munir El Haddadi to Sevilla.
The league leaders want back-up for Luis Suarez after Sevilla agreed a one-million-euro ($1.15-million) deal to buy Spain international Munir on Friday, leaving the Uruguayan as the only No. 9 at the club, playing between Lionel Messi and Ousmane Dembele.
“We have to look at it, it`s clear that after Munir`s departure we have a space,” Valverde told reporters on Saturday.
“We`ll see if we can sign a player, although we have to take into account the club`s economic conditions. We will see if we can, if someone comes.”
Asked about Chelsea striker Alvaro Morata, who has been linked to Barcelona in Spanish media reports, Valverde said: “I can only say the same thing — that he`s a great player, that he`s at another team, that we respect that a lot, etcetera.”
Barcelona are currently leading the La Liga with 40 points, with Atletico Madrid trailing them in second place with 35 points.