Colombia edge battling India

Colombia edge battling India

The match was heading to a predictable end. India had strung together a stirring show but the Colombians were ahead by a goal. For many home fans, it could have been a satisfying outcome. But there was a lot more in store on a muggy Monday night at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.

It happened in the 81st minute when, beating all expectations, India scored their first ever goal in a World Cup. Keeping up with their effervescent play, India earned a corner. Sanjeev Stalin took it and in a flash, Jeakson Thounaogam jumped above everyone to head the ball into the Colombian goal. There was not one in the stadium who was not on his feet, not one who didn’t clap. The giant screen beamed the scores 1-1. The moment seemed to last forever.

And then, within seconds, Colombia shook the Indians out of the delirium. Juan Penaloza, who had struck the first Colombian goal in the 49th minute, scored for the second time in the match in the 82nd minute, and India were again behind 1-2. The curtains fell on the match shortly after, ending a gritty Indian story.

India came into the contest with a beefed-up defence. They began by resting Suresh Singh, Jitendra Singh, Aniket Jadhav and star winger Komal Thatal. Rahim Ali replaced Jadhav as the forward and was supported by Abhijeet Sarkar. Colombia, making their attacking intent apparent, went in with four changes too by bringing in Andres Perea, Brayan Gomez, Robert Mejia and Etilso Martinez.

With the pressure of the debut match behind them, Indians were a transformed bunch.

Not only were they better organised in defence and midfield, they were brilliant in cutting through the flanks and in spraying passes. As the match progressed, they grew into a free, fearless and spirited lot.

In the 16th minute, Sarkar brought the crowd to its feet when he nutmegged two Colombian defenders to fire a clear shot. It could have been India’s first goal but for Colombian goalkeeper Kevin Meir. Meir responded on time to keep it out, conceding a corner.

In the defence, Anwar Ali was on fire and came up with a couple of brilliant tackles. The rest was taken care by goalkeeper Dheeraj Singh who once again put up an impressive show. He showed brilliant reflexes in keeping out a Colombian free-kick as he dived to his left. He again came to the rescue when he stretched fully on his left to deny a missile from Yadir Meneses from outside the box. If that was not enough, India again came close to scoring at the stroke of half-time.

Boris found Rahul Kannoly at the edge of the box. Kannoly fired the ball towards the goal only to see it kiss the bar and bounce back. It drew a collective sigh of despair from the stands. It soon gave way to a deafening applause as the Indian colts walked into half-time with the score reading 0-0. A lot, however, depended on whether the Indians could keep up the intensity in the second half as the match wore on.

Expectedly, the Colombians returned stronger and within five minutes of the second half, Penaloza had slammed the ball to the left of the Indian net.

The Indians, though, were resilient, and it soon gave way to the moment that sprung hope for Indian football. With the defeat, India bowed out of the contest, but not without a fight on a wonderful night.

DH News Service

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