| India’s Lalawmpuia Pachuau(right) being challenged by a Nepal defender during their AFC under-17 match at the Salt lake Stadium on Monday. Picture by Santosh Ghosh
Calcutta: A pathetic display of unimaginative soccer Monday suddenly put the Indian junior hopefuls in doubt as to whether they have it in them to make it to the September pre-quarter final of the of the AFC under-17 football championship in Japan.
Leading by a goal, the hosts failed to push in more, even as Nepal drew level soon after, and then coach Jahar Das blamed his luck that the woodwork came in between two more shots.
That was true, but what could be further derived from this 1-1 draw is that in this Group VI event, involving India Nepal and Afghanistan — from which one expected the hosts to move ahead easily — there is now little to choose vis-à-vis talent.
India went ahead in the 42nd minute when B. Ralte punted into the rival box as goalkeeper Sanjeev Shreshtha moved ahead. Lalawmpuia Pachuau slotted home from close.
Two minutes after the change of sides a Nepalese counter-attack resulted in a free-kick on the top of the box, to the right. Durga Lawat’s shot took the near post and rebounded back into play, and as goalkeeper Souvik Mondal charged up, Sishir Adhikari pushed into the empty goal.
There were two returns from the woodwork for India —Somnath Mitra’s header in the 83rd minute and Pachuau’s shot in the 84th — while a minute into injury time a 30-yard volley from India’s Tetea Tlau was tipped over fluently by Nepal ’keeper Shrestha.
In this 15-group qualifying championship (hosts Japan get to fill the 16th slot), only groups VI, IX and XII remain undecided. This year it is an under-16 affair, with the meet being under-17 because the final section will be held as late as next September.
Afghanistan are to play the hosts Wednesday, but they arrived in New Delhi only late Monday and are expected here Tuesday morning. This match will give India another chance to put their act together, and not really depend on coach Das’ “luck” factor or his believing that he is dealing only with “immature” kids.
National coach Stephen Constantine said he wasn’t willing to comment on “a team that has been entrusted to another coach”, but later said he saw “no passing game,” and there was “little positive” in what he saw onfield this day.
Das conceded that his defence-oriented approach didn’t really help. But he believes that he will move up and that he will be able to mould his wards into shape in the few months that he will have then till the next round. That could only be a possibility, it seems, if his team performs way above their performance of Monday. There are too many critical eyes in the AIFF now, and Das’ job could be on the line with one false step.
Nepal coach K.C. Dhruba said his boys grew “nervous after the first ten minutes, this being their first major international outing,” but he hopes to give a better show in the next match (versus Afghanistan).
India: Souvik Mondal, T. Naoba Singh, Chanchan Saha, Poibiang Poshna, Somnath Mitra, Robert Lalthlamuana, Tetea Tlau, Laltanpuia Hnamte (OT Lepcha, 52), Lalawmpuia Pachuau (Romeo Sukhlain, 88), B. Ralte, L. Vanchhawng.
Nepal: Sanjeev Sreshtha, Durga Lawat, Santosh Gurung, Dipesh Thapa Magar (Suraj Kharabuja, 43), Sandeep Rai, Sishir Adhikari, Rojit KC, Krishna Lama (Bikash Chhetri, 66), Nirajan Khadka, Santosh Shahukhala, Jeevan Sinkemana (Gyanandra Ale, 46).
Referee: A Rakib (Bangladesh).