CHAMPIONS | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, August 19, 2015 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:24 AM, August 19, 2015



Diving to his right, Bangladesh goalkeeper Faisal Ahmed blocked Saqlain Khan's spot-kick to send the full-crowd at the Sylhet District Stadium, and millions of viewers across the country, into rapture as Bangladesh clinched the SAFF U-16 Championship for the first time after a nerve-wracking 4-2 win in a tiebreaker in the final against India yesterday.

The match had rolled into shootouts directly after 90 minutes of regulation time ended 1-1, with Bangladesh throwing away Fahim Murshed's 46th minute strike after just 18 minutes into the second half.

Having beaten the Indians 2-1 in the  group stages and kept their hundred per cent record coming into the final, Bangladesh were, for the first time, in fear of surrendering the title as India's tall goalkeeper Prabhsukhan Singh looked confident throughout the match, lending the defending champions an edge going into the shoot-outs.

But the Bangladesh colts held their nerve and converted all four of the spot kicks they needed, thanks to Abhijit Sarkar's failed attempt followed by Faisal's brilliant save.

Like the end, the day had begun in a festive, albeit a tad bit frenetic, mood for the people of Sylhet, who have consistently been proving that they do not share the apathy towards football like their fellows in the capital. It might have been only a youth level football – far from the maturity and finesse of their seniors, never mind the European football beamed on television – but the people of Sylhet couldn't care less. They wanted to be part of the festivity and wanted desperately to see the home side win. So the 20,000-capacity stadium was full to the rafters and every nook and corner in the surroundings were taken advantage of.

While the spectators were all decked up for celebration, the home team started the final in less than convincing fashion, thanks to numerous miss-passes and purposeless forays in the face of possession-based football by the Indians. But the boys in red and green grew in confidence and the pace of the game intensified as the match progressed.

Saad Uddin started as the lone striker, in absence of suspended Sarwar Zaman Nipu, but the semifinal hero was soon brought back to the left-wing, paving way for skipper Mohammad Shawon to dictate terms upfront.

After a few early exchanges, Shawon provided a delightful chip for Mostajeb Khan, whose header went narrowly wide of the target in the 22nd minute before the right-winger's attempt from a distance whizzed over the bar. 

India's first big break came in the 40th minute when Mohammad Shajahan whipped in a cross for Jeremy Laldinpuia, but the unmarked winger frustratingly drove wide of the target, with only Faisal to beat at the near post.

The hosts took the lead a minute after restart, with Shawon's cross to Mostajeb Khan being teed up for Fahim Murshed, whose drive evaded the India keeper and nestled at the back of the net.

Going a goal down, India started to strangle back the control of midfield and found the equaliser in the 63rd minute, with Amay Avinash smashing home from the edge of the box, the ball embracing the back of the net after brushing the inside of the crossbar.

Bangladesh, however, could have wrapped up the victory had Fahim managed to muster a proper shot on target after being gifted with a weak clearance inside box in the 79th minute, but thanks to Faisal's brilliance, and the calm spot-kicks by his teammates, the mistake didn't come back to haunt the hosts. 

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