| Sunil Chetri |
Calcutta/Kathmandu: An injury-time goal by captain Sunil Chetri saved India the blushes as they played out a 1-1 draw against Bangladesh in their second group match of the SAFF Football Championships on Tuesday.
Defending champions India, who had scraped past Pakistan 1-0 in their campaign opener thanks to an own goal by their rival skipper, dished out another disappointing show at the Halchowk Stadium on Tuesday.
Wim Koevermans’ men were on the verge of an embarrassing defeat after Atiqur Rahman Meshu had put Bangladesh ahead in the 82nd minute. Chetri managed to equalise in the 94th minute.
Chetri, who was off colour all through the match, scored from a free-kick to give India one point. They now have four from two outings. They play hosts Nepal on Thursday.
Koevermans tried all his tricks but without success. He made three changes in the second half, bringing in Dawson Fernandes, Arata Izumi and Robin Singh in place of Jeje Lalpekhlua, Lenny Rodrigues and Francis Fernandes respectively.
But the all-important goal eluded his side till the fourth and final minute of the added time.
Three Indians - Sunil Chetri, Arnab Mondal and Nirmal Chetri - were shown yellow cards. India were the better side in the first half. They had more ball possession and switched flanks in an effort to find the mark. It resulted in a flurry of chances, but none were converted.
The first chance came in the eighth minute when an overlapping Nirmal Chettri found Francis Fernandes on the right.
Francis sped past Waly Faisal and essayed a centre but an unmarked Chetri’s volley just went over.
The very next minute, another of Chetri’s efforts went off the mark and then Jewel Raja failed to pull the trigger after the trio of Lenny Rodrigues, Mehtab Hussain and Chetri had done the spadework.
But by the hour mark, Bangladesh seemed to have got a measure of the Indians and were the better side till the end.
In the 68th minute, Mobarak Hossain Bhuyan cut in from the right, created space for himself and sent a fine cross for a waiting Mohamed Zahid Hasan Ameli. But Gouramangi Singh was able to sneak in at the right time to intercept.
Two minutes later, Gouramangi was at it again, as he made another interception after Mohd Taklis Ahmed got the better of Lenny Rodrigues inside the Indian box.Bangladesh went ahead in the 82nd minute with Aiiqur Meshu heading in off a corner.
Mohamed Mamunul Islam, who came in just two minutes before, took the corner and an unmarked the Atiqur Rahman Meshu had a free header at the far post and he had all the time in the world to just nod the ball home.
India were, however, not to be denied a point, as Chetri scored a gem of a goal.
After the match, Chetri said it would have been ‘a disaster’ had India lost against Bangladesh.
“We dominated all through but missed so many chances. It was our mistake and we feel guilty about it,” Chetri maintained.
The goal took Chetri past IM Vijayan and he presently has 41 international goals to his credit, one less than Bhaichung Bhutia.
“We had eight to ten chances and we need to convert them in our next match,” he added. Koevermans said he was “happy that Chetri scored a great goal.”
“He showed his value, what he is capable of,” he added. “We created a lot of chances, around 10, but couldn’t convert. On the other hand, the rival team scored off a set-piece. It happens so many times in football,” he said.
“We should have got three points but have to be happy with one,” he maintained.