India beat Pakistan to qualify for main draw

 In the Group B match of the Challenge Cup qualifiers in the MBPJ stadium, young Indian Arrows forward Jeje Lalpekhlua (67th, 93rd) struck a crucial brace to spur India to the main draw. Steven Dias (90th) scored the other goal for India via a penalty, after Houghton’s men had gone down to a first half goal from Arif Mehmood in the 32nd minutes against the run of play.

With the win, their second in as many matches after easing past Chinese Taipei 3-0 on Monday, India have secured six points, enough to advance to next year’s final round.
Turkmenistan beat Chinese Taipei 2-0 in another league match to also qualify for the final round. Turkmenistan had beaten Pakistan 3-0 in their opening match. The top two sides from the four-team Group B qualifying round advance to the final round. The venue for the final round is yet to be decided.

Both sides started on a cautious note but India were more aggressive with defender Anwar Ali and Jeje keeping the Pakistan goalkeeper busy in the first 15 minutes of the game.

It was, however, Pakistan who took the lead against the run of the play. Striker Arif shot a low angle right-footer from near the sidelines which hit the patchy turf and bounced wickedly. It flummoxed India custodian Subrata Pal.

The secong half saw India come out with renewed vigour and captain Sunil Chhetri’s set the tone with an attempt a minute into the second half which hit the cross bar.

India finally broke through Pakistan’s stubborn defence and found the equaliser through Jeje in the 67th minute. Winger Syed Rahim Nabi laid the ball through the left flank and Jeje made no mistake in beating Pakistan custodian Amir Gul.

Bob Houghton’s lads took a deserved 2-1 lead in the 90th minute from the penalty spot after a Pakistani defender brought down Jeje inside the box. Dias duly stepped forward and disptached the spotkick. Jeje completed his brace in the third minute of stoppage time from a counter attack.

The Pakistani forward line moved towards the Indian box seeking for an equaliser but a swift counter attack by India saw Chhetri lobbing the ball from near the centreline to Jeje who got the better of a couple of Pakistani defenders before finding the net to make it 3-1.

India play Turkmenistan on Friday in the last league match to decide the group topper.
Houghton praised his charges for their fighting spirit to recover from a goal down. “It was a good game, we dominated. We were down by a goal at half time but the boys showed good spirit to come back,” he said after the match.

Meanwhile, a hat-trick by Mohammad Sediq Walizada helped Afghanistan trounce Bhutan 3-0 in their  AFC Challenge Cup pre-qualifying play-off at Tau Devi Lal stadium in Gurgaon.
Sediq netted in the 2nd, 35th and 80th minute to spur his side to an easy victory. Bhutan will now face a tough task to overcome Afghanistan in the return leg scheduled to be held in the same venue on Friday.

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