| Action during India’s Nehru Cup match against Cameroon. A Telegraph picture |
New Delhi: If the inconsequential group league match between India and Cameroon in the Nehru Cup, here, on Friday, was a dress rehearsal for the final to be played 48 hours later, then the hosts had not much to feel assured of. The visitors left eight of their regulars at the bench and yet managed to beat India 1-0 to finish on top of the group.
However, India, too, were not in full strength. Wim Koevermans was obviously in no mood to show all his cards and made five changes from the team that played in the drawn encounter against Nepal. It included captain Sunil Chetri, who paved the way for young Manandeep Singh.
But then, the difference of class between the two teams was evident. Played on perfect ground conditions for the first time in the tournament, the African side exposed the chinks in the Indian defence time and again. The two attacking midfielders — Eloundou Charles and Bite Samuel — didn’t get much chance to play in the tournament so far but operated like veterans on Friday. The duo embarrassed the rival defenders on several occasions with their skill and speed.
Samuel made his intention known in the very second minute. Latching onto a through pass from the left, he brushed aside the challenge of stand-in captain Gouramangi Singh in great speed to score off an angular shot.
Cameroon could have increased the margin five minutes before the half time. They earned a spot kick when Rahim Nabi brought down Charles inside the box. Ebanga Bertin tried to chip the penalty kick over the goalkeeper’s head in the Andrea Pirlo style but failed miserably. Karanjit Singh had no difficulty in collecting the ball.
The 5000-odd Indian fans, however, were not disappointed as the home side never gave up the fight. Pitted against physically stronger opponents, the Indians fought for every inch on the pitch. Credit should go to players like Mehtab Hossain, Nabi and Clifford Miranda, who worked tirelessly to disturb the Cameroon defence. The most heartening factor was the Indians never lost the sense of purpose and displayed variations throughout the 90-minute encounter.
India had three good chances. In the first half, Manandeep messed up from close range. He was placed perfectly to nod home but his header was way off the target. Nabi made a similar mistake in the second session. Known for his fine spot jumps, Nabi outsmarted his marker but headed over. In the 82nd minute, Francisco Fernandes’ feeble header was collected by the Cameroon goalkeeper.
The only area the Cameroonians looked vulnerable was the defence though three of the defenders were from reserve bench. With Chetri sure to be back in the team for the final, India should be able to stretch the visitors’ defence more than what they were able to do on Friday.
India: Karanjit Singh, Denzil Franco, Gourmangi Singh, Gurwinder Singh (Raju Gaekwad, 81) and Syed Rahim Nabi; Sanju Pradhan, Mehtab Hossain, Jewel Raja and Anthony Pereira; Francisco Fernandes (Alwyn George, 84) and Manandeep Singh (Robin Singh 67).
Cameroon: Nkessi Hosea; Momaso Joseph (Bebey Kingue 78), Ebongoue Echille, Ntolla Robert and Talla Eugine; Ebanga Bertin (Ashu Tambe 77), Eloundou Charles, Bite Samuel and Ousmaila Baba, Mandjombe Soulemanou and William Bogning (Thierry Neoga 82).
Referee: Hashmi Hamad (UAE).