By Nilanjan Datta,
AIFF Media Team
PUNE: The new kit looked gorgeous, the shade of Orange on the Indian Blue.
Prior to the match, the GPS systems were inserted into the jackets as Team India took the field wearing GPS trackers for the first time ever in Indian Football history.
The starting XI had Pronoy Halder making his debut for India, in the process becoming the 496th Player to play for his Country.
And as India took the field, much to everyone’s surprise, a tactical shift by National Coach Stephen Constantine saw a ‘till now’ Central Midfielder being moved back to a Central Defender! Dhanpal Ganesh, partnering Sandesh Jhingan looked composed and impressed with his distribution as the match progressed.
India dominated and played delightful. But the result ended in a stalemate. Despite all the dominance all throughout, Stephen Constantine’s India eventually had to settle for a goalless draw in the International Friendly against Nepal at the Balewadi Stadium in Pune on Monday (August 31). Constantine employed as many as 6 substitutions but the deadlock wasn’t broken.
In the first half, India played mostly in the rival half. The Indians dominated and pushed the rivals into their half. The back four almost played around the Centre-line and quick interchanges, switching, transitions and one-twos keeping Nepal guessing.
There’s a certain reason why Eugenson Lyngdoh is so highly rated. Backing his exemplary work rate, his overhead through in the 44th minute evaded the Nepal defence and stooped and stopped for the onrushing Sunil Chhetri to take it all the way in to the box. But even as Chhetri, with his feint sent the rival custodian Limbu Kiran the other way, his placement just went wide. Just!
That apart, Francis Fernandes hit the post in the 20th minute when he tried to blast in a rebound following Lyngdoh’s corner.
Francis also had a shy at the goal when Limbu came up with back to back saves to first, frustrate Robin Singh and then Jeje Lalkephlua. And even as Francis tried to place in the rebound, it deflected for a corner.
Changing over, Constantine made four substitutions. Rowlin Borges was handed his debut (the 497th Player to play for India) as he replaced Lyngdoh, Jackichand Singh came in for Francis and Pritam Kotal was replaced by Rino Anto. Furthermore, Karanjit Singh came in for Subrata Paul – Chhetri Captaining the side in the 2nd half.
As was in the first half, corners were earned regularly and almost every time, Nepal managed to keep it off. In the 62nd minute, Robin couldn’t make the most of a free header off Jacki’s corner.
CK Vineeth came in as the fourth substitution in the 66t minute and had his first shy at the goal three minutes later. And a minute before that, the lanky Limbu timed his jump to perfection to deny Sandesh heading in a Jacki corner.
The fifth substitution came in the 73rd minute – Cavin Lobo coming in for debutant Halder who all throughout was omnipresent, available for support and willing to ‘fight.’
Lobo made his way past two in the 79th minute and even as a full stretched Linbu managed to keep his left footer away, rival Captain Bharat Thapa cleared it in time as Robin tried to poach.
And the next minute, Chhetri, after shrugging off his marker shot from just outside the box but it agonizingly went wide.
The sizeable crowd, loud, with his drums and bugles, did cheer till the end, but the deadlock wasn’t broken.
INDIA: Subrata Paul (GK and Captain) (Karanjit Singh – 46th); Pritam Kotal (Rino Anto - 46th), Dhanpal Ganesh, Sandesh Jhingan, Narayan Das; Francis Fernandes (Jackichand Singh – 46th), Pronoy Halder (debut for India – 496th Player to represent India – Cavin Lobo – 73rd), Eugenson Lyngdoh (Rowlin Borges – 497th Player to represent India – 46th), Sunil Chhetri, Jeje Lalekhlua (CK Vineeth – 66th), Robin Singh.