By Nilanjan Datta,
AIFF Media Team
INDIA 2 (Sunil Chhetri – 53rd & 69th)
GUWAHATI: As it kicked-off, it was time to refer to the history books. When have four Players made their debut for India in the same match, that too in the Starting XI? And mind you, three of them were defenders!
It was about being brave as a Coach; it was about being able to bring a new feel; and most importantly, it was about being able to make people accountable. The number grew to five and then six and eventually seven. After some 90 minutes when it ended, seven had already made their debut for India in the match.
The new blood, hungry and full of ‘character’ dominated and scored to win 2-0 against Nepal in the World Cup Qualifiers Preliminary Joint Qualification Round 1 at the Indira Gandhi Athletics Stadium in Sajusarai, Guwahati. The return leg in Kathmandu is slated for March 17.
Both the goals came in the second half from Sunil Chhetri -- the first off his left foot to the left corner of the rival Goalkeeper Limbu Kumar and the second off his right foot to the right corner of Limbu. He could have added another had not an acrobatic Limbu denied Chhetri off the spot. The penalty was awarded after Cavin Lobo was brought down in the box by Sandip Rai.
Add to that a disallowed goal off Jackichand Singh and the plethora of chances created, India could have won it much handsomely.
The buildup to the first goal was all about ‘character’ and the triangle. Not willing ever to give that that extra inch, the tireless Lenny Rodrigues pressed, snatched as the triangle of Lenny-Robin-Sunil hoodwinked the Nepal defence; and the move got what it deserved – a perfect finish from Chhetri.
The second was equally better. Debutant Jacikichand Singh, unselfish, held on allowing Sunil to make the run off the ball and once it came to his feet, he dug it deep.
Earlier, after a slow start from India, the second half was just, perhaps, Xerox-ed on the field from the drawing board. National Coach Stephen Constantine was pleased as punch as his sessions bore fruit. The counter attacks were initiated in a flash, there was speed in the legs as much it was in the lungs. It was hard to name an individual as it was all about the Team.
India, however, were not off to the best of starts. Though it seemed inevitable that the combination would strike the chord soonest, it took a bit of time to actually come into play. And once it did after the first 25 minutes, the Men in Blue just ran away with it.
India first had a shy at the rival goal in the 1th minute when an one-two between Sunil Chhetri and Robin Singh opened up the rival defence but Robin’s shot couldn’t trouble Nepal Goalkeeper Limbu Kiran.
Robin was again in the thick of action in the 34th and the 35th minutes respectively. On the first occasion, he latched on to a ball played just behind the defence but his rasping left footer sailed agonisingly over.
The very next minute, Lalrindika Ralte’s perfectly essayed floater found Robin in the clear and even as on onrushing Limbu tried to narrow the angle, Robin’s placement just went wide.
The Sunil-Robin combine was slowly starting to bloom by then. In the 41st minute, Sunil collected, shielded and found Robin but only for the latter’s shot to be deflected for a corner off which Arnab Mondal’s header sailed over.
However, the best chance of the first half-time went abegging at the stroke of half-time. Chhetri, blessed with that split extra second with the ball found an overlapping Francis and even as livewire played an one-two with Robin to get himself all in the clear, Limbu managed to save his placement from pointblank range.
The last 15 minutes of the first half promised much for the second half and changing over India began form where they had left.
The first corner came in the 47th minute but Limbu managed to palm it away even as Robin tried to pounce on Francis’ curler.
The Indians started winning all the ‘second balls’ thus frustrating the rivals and initiating more. In the 52rd minute Nepal survived when Chhetri’s volley from the top of the box got stuck in between an out of position Limbu’s legs.
Thereafter, it was all one-way traffic. The quick interchanging, speedy counters and pressing proved too hot for Nepal. The best way was to sit back, relax and watch. It was Football at its best.
INDIA: Subrata Paul (Captain); Pritam Kotal (debut for India), Arnab Mondal, Sandesh Jhingan (debut for India), Shaumik Dey (debut for India); Francis Fernandes, Lenny Rodrigues, Eugeneson Lyngdoh (debut for India), Lalrindika Ralte (Jackichand Singh – debut for India – 57th); Sunil Chhetri, Robin Singh (Holicharan Narzary -- 90+1).
Posted on : Thursday March 12, 2015