Sunil Chhetri's late strike earns India first win at SAFF Championship in Maldives
Male/UNI: A late strike from Indian captain-striker Sunil Chhetri handed India a 1-0 win over Nepal in the SAFF Championship 2021 group stage held at the National Football Stadium in Male, Maldives.
Nippy striker Sunil Chettri did the job brilliantly and brought a big smile on the face of the head coach who was almost at his wit's end.
With this win, India sits comfortably on the third spot on the group table with five points, just one behind Maldives and Nepal, both of whom have acquired six points each.
India started off on the front foot, winning their first corner of the match as early as in the third minute. The Nepali defence was up to the task though, as they cleared the ball that was swung in by Brandon Fernandes.
An interesting battle ensued between the two captains, Sunil Chhetri and Kiran Kumar Limbu, in the opening exchanges.
India constantly tried to feed the ball to Chhetri on multiple occasions, but Limbu stepped out as well to nip the chances in time.
A little under the 20-minute mark, Chhetri managed to control an aerial ball inside the box and got his shot away, but he was shepherded to a tight angle by the defence and Limbu managed to parry it away.
India had launched most of their attacks down the right-wing but as the clock neared the half-hour mark, Suresh found Brandon on the left with a cross-field switch over. The midfielder-turned defender cut inside, and unleashed a shot, which went wide.
India had their best chance in the 34th minute of the first half when Suresh was fed through inside the box by Pritam Kotal.
The midfielder flashed a low cross across goal to Chhetri, who was waiting unmarked at the far post. However, a slight touch by Limbu scuppered the chance, as the India captain’s eventual shot went agonisingly wide.
With two minutes of regulation time in the first half left, Chhetri created another chance, when he nodded a cross into the path of Manvir Singh, who tried to control the ball, but was muscled off it, as the two teams went into the break with the score still remaining 0-0.
The men-in-blue continued much in the same vein in the second half, passing the ball around the park and looking to prise open the Nepal defence. They earned a free-kick just outside the penalty box, 10 minutes into the second half.
Brandon Fernandes, who took the free-kick, sent it inches over the bar.
Manvir Singh had another chance, this time off a cross by Yasir, as the forward produced a textbook header hard into the ground but Nepal captain Kiran Limbu again produced a diving save. That was the last piece of the action for Manvir, who was replaced by Udanta Singh, while Anirudh Thapa came on for Suresh Wangjam.
Yasir soon cut inside from the right and unleashed a vicious long ranger but it went wide. Soon after, he was replaced by Farukh Chaudhury, while Liston Colaco came on for Mandar Rao Dessai.
Subhasish had a brilliant opportunity to snatch the lead when Chhetri’s header off a Brandon set-piece fell to Subhasish who sent in a powerful header straight into Linbu’s torso.
With eight minutes of regulation time left on the clock, it was captain Sunil Chhetri who broke the deadlock.
Substitute Farukh Choudhary headed an aerial through ball by Brandon onto Chhetri’s path, as the India captain volleyed it home with his left foot.
India will play their final group stage game against hosts Maldives at 9:30 pm IST Wednesday.