| Arnab Mondal (right) vies for the ball with Pakistan’s Mohammed Adil, in Kathmandu, on Sunday |
Calcutta/Kathmandu: India began their SAFF Championship campaign with a victory. Not a very convincing one, but still a win is a win and their 1-0 victory over neighbours Pakistan may just give them the required rhythm for the rest of the tournament.
It took an own goal from Pakistan captain Samar Ishaq in the 14th minute to ensure three points for Sunil Chetri and Co. India will take on Bangladesh in their second group league encounter on Tuesday.
The match was billed as a contest between Pakistan defender and former Fulham player Zesh Rahman and India captain Chetri, but the duel never attained the desired heights. While Rahman has become slow, Chetri was wasteful inside the 18-yard box. He wasted three clear chances with the rival custodian at his mercy. So his wait to overhaul IM Vijayan as India’s second-ever highest goalscorer continues.
The winner in the 14th minute was more a result of a defensive lapse.
Right wing back Nirmal Chetri overlapped and tried to find an onrushing Sunil between the two stoppers, but Pakistan captain Samar Ishaq, in his bid to keep his Indian counterpart at bay, made a faulty clearance and the ball rolled into the Pakistan goal.
India’s best player on the day was young right winger Francis Fernandes who repeatedly beat opposition left half Kamran Khan. Kamran was ultimately replaced in the 33rd minute.
Francis managed to evade his marker and enjoyed good possession along with two central midfielders Mehtab Hossain and Lenny Rodrigues. He made Kamran chase shadows as he essayed a lot of crosses from the right flank.
Just after kick-off, India were rewarded with four flag-kicks in rapid succession, but failed to score.
Immediately after change of ends, forward Jeje Lalpekhlua tried to nod home a Mehtab free-kick down the right, but it was just off the mark.
Another header sailed over agonisingly in the 62nd minute — this time Gouramangi Singh. In the very next minute, Chetri and Jeje combined to create a chance, but the Pakistani defence averted the danger.
And then, off the next attack, Chetri averted Zesh, but his effort was thwarted by Pakistan goalkeeper Yousaf Ejaz Butt.