NEW DELHI: Flexibility. That is what ‘New India’ showed against Nepal in their third Nehru Cup match at the Jawaharlal Stadium on Tuesday (August 28). Honours were shared at the end of ninety minutes as 10-men Nepal bowed out of the tournament after holding India to a goalless draw. India now have seven points from three matches while Nepal languish rock bottom of the table with only one point in their kitty.
National Coach Wim Koevermans made two changes to the side that beat Maldives three days back. While injured Nirmal Chhetri was replaced by Denzil Franco, Anthony Pereira got his first start of the tournament in place of Sanju Pradhan.
On a wet pitch after heavy downpour delayed the kickoff to half an hour, Koevermans’ wards tried to take the aerial route in the first half. “Nepal adjusted to the conditions better than us,” Koevermans admitted after the match.
Keeping in mind the underfoot conditions which enhance the chances of injury, the Sunil Chhetris and the Gourmangi Singhs rightly adopted a safety-first strategy. India’s best chance came in the 19th minute through captain Chhetri’s supple reverse kick.
The visitors, coming into the match as wooden spooners, could not afford any such “plan B” and went all guns blazing. This is where the Indian backline stood tall, like a rock. Left back Rahim Nabi deserves a special mention. Apart from winning tackles expertly in his zone, the versatile senior player laudably came out of his area to thwart Jumanu Rai en route to glory in the 22nd minute.
India needed someone tall and stout to make good use of the long balls being floated into the 18-yard box. Hence, changing over, Robin Singh came in place of Clifford Miranda. Francis Fernandes – like he did in the last match against Maldives – switched to the flank in a 4-4-2 formation. With the conditions relatively improving, passing was still possible after the breather. Indians toiled hard to create goal scoring opportunities.
One such move saw Chhetri hoodwink his markers to cut inside and set up Pereira whose venomous shot brought out the best from Nepal goalkeeper Kiran Chemjong.
Then in the 80th minute substitute Jewel Raja’s breathtaking solo run after being released by Francis failed to bear fruit. His effort went inches wide. Nepal were now feeling the heat as India seized the opportunity and attacked on all cylinders.
Another Jewel curling strike in the 81st minute was palmed away by Chemjong only for Robin to shoot on the rebound. Luckily for the keeper, his left-footer came straight to him. In the 89th minute, Bikash Chhetri was given marching orders for showing dissent after India were awarded a free kick.
India next play Cameroon on August 31.
INDIA: Subrata Pal; Denzil Franco, Gourmangi Singh, Raju Gaikwad, Syed Rahim Nabi; Clifford Miranda (Robin Singh), Mehtab Hossain, Lenny Rodrigues (Jewel Raja), Anthony Pereira; Francis Fernandes; Sunil Chhetri
Man of the Match: Kiran Chemjong