The Blue Tigers peaked at the right time en route to their eighth title.
The Indian football team claimed their eighth SAFF Championships title after trouncing Nepal 3-0 in the final. However, their start to the tournament was nowhere near this performance. They struggled to find the back of the net and could only manage draws against Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
Failing to win against Sri Lanka was probably the lowest point for the Indian football team in this tournament. But, they came back with a 1-0 win against Nepal. That victory gave them self-belief and the Blue Tigers followed it with a brilliant performance against the Maldives, winning the game 3-1 and qualifying for the final. They then carried the form into the finale and were simply the better team.
Here are the Indian player ratings from the entirety of the SAFF Championships:
Gurpreet Singh Sandhu – 7.0
A pretty solid outing for India’s No. 1, as he only conceded two goals throughout the tournament. Gurpreet had a commanding presence in the penalty area and maintained cohesion among the defenders.
Pritam Kotal – 7.0
A change in role for Pritam Kotal saw him shift back to the right-back position, after playing as a makeshift centre-back for ATK Mohun Bagan in the AFC Cup.
While he was dodgy defensively, he created mayhem with his menacing overlapping runs and accurate crosses down the right flank. Kotal ended the tournament with two assists, including the opener in the final.
Chinglensana Singh – 7.5
Probably India’s most consistent defender in recent times, Chinglensana Singh has grown in stature with every match. He is someone, who is gradually growing as a leader at the back for India. Along with his passing, he has also improved his game-reading.
Subhasish Bose – 6.0
Not the best tournament for the versatile defender. Subhasish Bose started as a left-back, but was played in the centre-back position in the final round-robin games.
Playing in different positions, he failed to leave a lasting mark with his performances. He missed the final against Nepal after seeing a red card against Maldives.
Rahul Bheke- 6.5
Did not have the easiest of starts and looked very unconvincing in most matches. But, once the nerves settled, Bheke did a pretty good job, considering he is not a centre-back predominantly. However, if Stimac intends to use him in that position, he needs to up the ante on reading the game and decision-making.
Mandar Rao Dessai – 7.0
His inclusion on the left flank added more width, as Mandar is a more naturally attack-minded left-back than Bose. The Mumbai City man was always on the move. He showed great combination play down the left and drilled in some excellent crosses. He was even decent defensively.
Seriton Fernades – 6.0
Only played a match in this tournament and it was India’s worst outing. While Seriton was not challenged that much defensively, he failed to create enough chances for the forwards against a resilient Sri Lankan side.
Anirudh Thapa – 6.5
It was difficult for Anirudh Thapa to jump straight into the Indian football team and perform without a proper pre-season. He was rusty and so were others.
Hence, he started slowly and gradually picked up the pace. He was exceptional in the final against Nepal in a three-man midfield. However, a lot more is expected from Thapa, as he is one of the brightest midfield talents in the country.
Brandon Fernandes – 7.5
It was Brandon Fernandes who started the turnaround for the Blue Tigers in the tournament. It was his cross, which Brandon headed into Sunil’s path for the latter to score against Nepal in a must-win game.
India had to win and they eventually did courtesy of a brilliant team goal. Brandon did reasonably well in his role, but probably was not at his best. He missed the final due to injury.
Suresh Singh Wangjam – 7.0
The youngster brought a bundle of energy and control, which Stimac wanted in the middle. He complimented Lalengmawia really well and combined with the wingers to create some chances. He also scored a great goal in the final against Nepal.
Lalengmawia – 8.0
One of the standout players for India in the tournament, Lalengmawia also started slowly. However, he came to the fore with exceptional performances against the Maldives and also in the final against Nepal. He showed composure, control and precision with his passing and was one of Stimac’s vital cogs in the middle of the park.
Mohammad Yasir – 8.0
India’s biggest find of the tournament has to be Mohammad Yasir’s transition from being a fringe player to a starter. He has been with the team since March, but was mostly used as an impact substitute until he proved his mettle to Igor Stimac.
The left-footed genius was exceptional with his movement and intricate passing in the final third. His nimble feet and trickery would often bamboozle defenders, which allowed him to create openings for the forwards.
Glan Martins – 6.5
The energetic midfielder started the first two matches for India before Suresh Singh took his place. While Martins was doing most things right, he was unable to gain that control in midfield.
The FC Goa star was still exceptional with his recoveries and physicality in the middle, but he did not fit in Stimac’s plans as the tournament went on.
Sahal Abdul Samad – 6.5
Sahal did not start a single game, but he did catch the eye after coming on as a substitute. His nimble footwork and pace are impossible to miss.
He showcased his trickery and calmness when he waltzed past Nepalese defenders to score the Indian football team’s third goal in the final against Nepal.
Sunil Chhetri – 9.0
Everyone in India is running out of adjectives for this man and he keeps on outdoing himself. Even at the age of 36, Sunil Chhetri is the one carrying the Indian football team.
He scored five goals, finished as the top scorer of the SAFF Championships 2021 and was the primary architect of India’s turnaround in the Maldives.
Manvir Singh – 7.0
A lot was expected from Manvir Singh especially after his last season’s performances in the ISL. He has shown that he can score goals, create chances and take on defenders.
However, he was only a shadow of himself at the SAFF Championships. He did raise the bar with a goal and an assist against the Maldives and had a decent final against Nepal. But, there’s still room for improvement for the ATK Mohun Bagan forward.
Liston Colaco- 6.5
While Liston Colaco is an exciting talent, he is far from the finished product. During his time at Hyderabad FC, Manolo Marquez mostly used him as a substitute to run at tired defenders and he succeeded in that role.
But, it is a lot different to keep up that same intensity from the start. Apart from some flashes of brilliance and trickery, Liston was far from his best in the tournament.
Udanta Singh – 6.0
Udanta Singh started the tournament brightly as he came up with an assist against Bangladesh. But, as it progressed, he faded away. He needs to gather himself again and improve mostly on his positioning and passing in tight spaces.
Rahim Ali – 6.0
The young forward only made appearances from the bench and apart from creating a goal for Sahal Abdul Samad in the final, he did not do much.
Farukh Choudhary – 7.0
One of India’s brightest stars, he was the only player who had that energy to break the shackles and score goals. He found the back of the net against Sri Lanka, but it was ruled out due to a foul earlier in the build-up. He then came up with a very difficult flick to assist Chhetri against Nepal, which started the turnaround for India. But, unfortunately, Farukh got injured and will most likely miss a large chunk of the upcoming ISL season.
Note: Goalkeepers Dheeraj Singh and Vishal Keith did not make an appearance while Jeakson Singh only featured as a late substitute in a couple of games and did not make an impact.