Chhetri seals it for India

Chhetri seals it for India

Football Nehru Cup: Skippers brace powers hosts to convincing 3-0 win over Maldives

It was supposed to be a close call for India but the two-time champions gave a thrilling display of goal-scoring against Maldives with a 3-0 victory in Nehru Cup football tournament at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium here on Saturday. 

It was India’s second successive victory in the tournament. The hosts had scored a hard-fought 2-1 win over 147th ranked Syria on Wednesday with Saturday’s win coming against 161st placed Maldives.

India, the lowest-rank side in this tournament having placed 168th in FIFA rankings, certainly played above their billing. Skipper Sunil Chhetri scored a brace (45th, 70th) with Syed Rahim Nabi chipped finding the target in the 54th minute. The fans, unlike in the first match, came in numbers, tirelessly cheered throughout and earned a deserving treat. 

India set the tone in the first half. The hosts enjoyed a better possession and vigorously attacked from both the flanks. Nabi from left, Clifford Miranda from the midlfield and Sanju Pradhan made constant forays. Nabi was particularly impressive, threading the moves and even scoring.

However, Maldives defenders, especially Arif Mohamed, robustly doused their attempts. Maldives’s pace, expectedly, was scorching but Indians did well to hang in. It could have gone either way in the first half but it was the island nation who crafted some thrilling moves to thwart the Indian midfield and defence. Goalkeeper Subrata Paul came up with fine saves to keep the danger at bay.

Maldives’ best chance came when its skipper Ashfaq Ali broke through the midfield to send a precise pass to Abdullah Asadhulla on the right wing. Asadhulla beat three Indian defenders to send it back to Ali, who was by now on the edge of the box.  However, the Maldives skipper slipped while going for a right footer and Paul slid to timely collect the ball.

In an immediate counter-attack, India’s Sunil Chhetri’s headed a pass to Francisco Fernandes, whose header failed to find the target. The hosts continued to assert themselves and were lucky when in one of their raids, Nabi’s left-footer hit Mohamed Sifan’s hand. It was a legitimate call for penalty and Chhetri converted it with no hiccups.

India entered the half-time with a 1-0 lead. The defending champions began the second half straightaway with their first substitution — Robin Singh replacing Pradhan. The challenge for India was to keep pace with Maldives.

But not only did the defending champions keep up the speed, they furiously attacked the Maldives defense. Several moves were created and died before Nabi consolidated the lead.  An accurate corner kick from Miranda came straight to Nabi, who headed in. Chhetri completed the rout when he found the target with a diving header off a cross from Francis Fernandes.

India next plays Nepal on Tuesday while Nepal face Cameroon on Sunday.

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