| bhutia: Going great guns
New Delhi: Indian captain Bhaichung Bhutia struck twice to inspire India to a 2-0 win over higher-ranked Uzbekistan in the first of the two friendly football matches at the Ambedkar Stadium Sunday.
In a match which otherwise saw uninspiring football from the hosts, Bhutia scored on either side of the break. The first goal came in the 15th minute when Bhutia received a pass inside the penalty area and took a left-footer on the half-turn that beat the Uzbek keeper. The second goal was scored in the 66th minute when the Bagan striker escaped the off-side trap masterfully to slot the ball in.
However, the Indians were lucky to get away as their midfield lacked purpose and the forwards missed some easy chances. The visitors on the other hand, dominated for most part of the game and both the Indian goals came against run of play.
The Uzbeks came desperately close to scoring a couple of times, but the cross-piece came in the way. The Indian goalkeeper Nasim Akhtar had an impressive outing as he saved quite a few goal-bound shots.
Klikinov Aleksey kept feeding the attacker Mirkholdirshayev Shukrat who proved a menace to the Indian camp. But the visitors found it difficult to turn the advantage into goals. In the 20th minute Shukrat entered the penalty area but was checked by Sasthi Duley.
Two minutes later, India had a close shave when Aleksey found Hamidullaev Bahtier in the clear but the latter’s right-footer struck the bar and went out. Indians mounted a few attacks, though they were far and few in between. Rennedy Singh combined with Praveen Kumar to enter the penetrative zone, but Kumar struck it straight into the hands of the keeper.
After the break, the visitors pressed for the equaliser but the Indians were upto the task. Bahtier twice found him free near the goal but was foiled by the Indian custodian. The Indian captain however, came close to a hat-trick in the 77th minute when his shot beat the rival goalkeeper but struck the cross-post and came back into play.
“It was OK, but I don’t think we played as good as we could have,” Indian coach Stephen Constantine said after the match. “We tried to blood in a few youngsters who did not get to play against Jamaica and in Vietnam. The result was not great but I will take it.”
Bhutia acknowledged that he was a bit tired in the match. “Yes, I was a bit exhausted... In fact the whole team was... We could also have been more aggressive,” Bhutia said after the match.
The teams play the second match of the series Wednesday.
Asian Games groups
North Korea has been clubbed with Pakistan in Group F of the Asian Games football tournament to be held in Pusan from September 27 to October 13. The groupings were reworked following the pull-out of Jordan, Mongolia and Tajikistan and the inclusion of North Korea, Palestine and Afghanistan.
Group A: South Korea, Malaysia, Maldives, Oman
Group B: United Arab Emirates, Vietnam, Yemen, Thailand
Group C: China, India, Bangladesh, Turkmenistan
Group D: Japan, Uzbekistan, Bahrain, Palestine
Group F: Iran, Qatar, Lebanon, Afghanistan
Group F: Kuwait, North Korea, Hong Kong, Pakistan