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India ride captain Chetri’s goal

Action during India’s friendly tie against Pakistan, in Bangalore

Calcutta: Sunil Chetri led from the front to help a 10-man India defeat Pakistan 1-0 in the first of the two international friendly matches, at the Bangalore Football Stadium, on Sunday.

Captain Chetri, who plays for Bengaluru FC, tapped the rebound home after Robin Singh’s flick off a Lalrindika Ralte corner hit the post in the 44th minute.

If that was sweet, the second half turned sour for the hosts after Robin was given marching orders in the 69th minute for receiving his second yellow card of the match. India then displayed exceptional character to hold onto the lead.

Coach Wim Koevermans said it was “interesting to see how the boys responded playing with 10-men.”

“I am overall happy with the performance. Pakistan started well… We took time to settle down. But once we found our foot, we had a lot of possession,” he said.

Speaking further, Koevermans said: “I like wing play and we are really strong there. But we need to improve on the final pass. The presence of Robin upfront is great. This was our sixth match in preparation for the Incheon Asian Games. We have worked hard and tried to mould all into the formation we like to play,” he said.

“I think one of our greatest quality is the manner in which we counter-attack. Hopefully we will improve on other areas before the Asian Games. We need to defend as an unit.”

The goal came at the stroke of interval. Ralte curled in a corner at the first post which was met by Robin. The striker timed his jump to perfection and did everything right but his flick hit the bar. However, an agile Chetri poached on the rebound and gleefully converted from close.

Pakistan, though, had started the match on a better note, often making forays into the opponent citadel. But India slowed down the pace, seized the initiative by maintaining possession and slowly pushed Pakistan onto the backfoot.

India could have taken the lead in the 29th minute but Pakistan goalkeeper Saqib Hanif’s brilliance kept the scoreline level. Robin received a ball from Chetri inside the box and laid it off for Ralte, but the latter’s placement was palmed away by an acrobatic Hanif.

As the match progressed, the nimble-footed Mandar Rao Desai, growing in confidence on the left flank stayed a thorn in the Pakistan defence.

In the 37th minute, Mandar feinted past Muhammad Bilal and tried to find Francis Fernandes inside the box but Riyaz recovered just in time as Francis was all set to head it in. Post resumption, Mandar was still weaving webs around Faisal Iqbal on the left. In the 56th minute, he dribbled past Iqbal to create space but his cross went wayward.

By then, the Chetri-Robin combination was proving too hot to handle. In the 61st minute, an one-two between the duo split open the rival defence and even as Chetri went for a placement in the first post itself, Hanif managed to keep it at bay.

The very next minute, another one-two found Chetri in the clear but his left-footer went over; and in the 68th minute, Mandar’s powerful right-footer from the top of the box sailed over.