SAFF: Chhetri nets late winner as India down Nepal

37-year-old Chhetri’s 77th international goal in his 123rd match for India placed him level with Brazilian great Pele, who scored 77 goals from 92 matches.

Sunil Chhetri’s late goal earned India a 1-0 victory over Nepal in the SAFF Championship, at the National Football Stadium in Male, Maldives, on Sunday.

The victory took India to third in the group standings with five points, just a point behind the Maldives and Nepal, both of whom have six each.

It was the 37-year-old Chhetri’s 77th international goal in his 123rd match for India, which placed him level with Brazilian great Pele, who scored 77 goals from 92 matches.

He is now joint-third on the leading active players’ list with the UAE’s Ali Mabkhout (77), behind Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo (112) and Argentina’s Lionel Messi (79) in that order.

Despite dominating the match, the Indians were unable to score.

With eight minutes of regulation time left on the clock, India’s skipper broke the deadlock. Substitute Farukh Choudhary headed an aerial through ball from Brandon Fernandes onto Chhetri’s path and the diminutive striker volleyed home with his left foot.

Nepal went in desperate search for the equaliser. Anjan Bista penetrated the box and essayed at the Indian goal with a few minutes left for the final whistle, but goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu did well to cut off the threat.

Soon after Ayush Ghalan looked to find some space for his teammates with a dangerous cross, but Gurpreet came out of his line and collected the ball calmly.

The Blue Tigers play their final group stage game against hosts Maldives on Wednesday, at the same venue at 2130 IST.

India must beat Maldives to make it to the October 16 final.

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