Already well-established as a Nations Cup juggernaut, there was no stopping India’s special mission at the 40th annual summer soccer tournament.
Dedicated to the memory of Brandon Bassi, India captured its fifth men’s Open title in 10 years with a 2-1 victory over Croatia in front of a huge throng of supporters on Sunday night at the Hugh Boyd Oval.
The 19-year-old from North Delta passed away in May from injuries sustained in a single-car accident. Bassi had taken his career to Simon Fraser University after an outstanding run through youth soccer that included time in the Whitecaps FC Residency program. He was also a member of India’s Nations Cup team.
“Absolutely this is for him. Brandon’s dad, brother and family are all here tonight,” said India coach Peter Virk. “Eight of the boys played on Brandon’s youth team growing up. He was with us last year but didn’t see the park but he definitely 100 percent would have been starting for us this year.”
India has earned a reputation for its attacking style and blistering pace but it was a more of a conservative approach that got the job done in the final.
The game was scoreless through the opening half and neither side was generating high quality chances. India then took its game to another level and produced both its goals in the final 15 minutes. Croatia converted a late penalty but the ball didn’t even make it back to centre before the final whistle.
“I think you have to take a bit of a cautious approach in the final (and not surrender an early goal),” continued Virk who has now guided India to a pair of titles in the last three years. “It’s a tough tournament to win, especially when you have have to play your big guns in the semis and finals. I was lucky we went up on Africa and I could make some subs. This was a tough final but we got the big one.”
India’s road to the title included group wins over Portugal (3-0), Fiji (1-0) and Caribbean (2-0) before taking out defending champion Africa (3-2) in the semi-finals.
Croatia reached its first Open championship game thanks to a thrilling 2-1 semi-final win over Italy — producing the equalizer in the dying seconds then a golden goal about five minutes into extra time.
India’s Chetan “CJ” Jhooty was named tournament MVP for the second time in three years.
Other Nation Cup winners included Canada repeating in the Women’s Division thanks to a highly-entertaining 3-1 win over India. Tournament MVP Dakota Chan capped a three-goal outburst for the winners on a nifty re-direct after India had opened the scoring. It was the Richmond product and University of Nebraska student’s second straight MVP award.
Scotland edged England 1-0 for the Over 30s title. India was also crowned Over 38 champion after defeating Italy 2-0.
Germany squeezed past Scotland 1-0 for the Over 45 title while China earned Over 52 honours with a 1-0 win against England.