SAFF Cup 2021: India beat Nepal 1-0 to register first win in the tournament

Sunil Chhetri broke the deadlock in the 82nd minute and it was his 77th international goal, equaling the legendary Pele's tally.

India defeat Nepal 1-0 in the 2021 SAFF Cup fixture; Credit: Twitter/@IndianFootball
By Sreejith C R | Oct 11, 2021 | 3 Min Read follow icon Follow Us

India registered their first win of SAFF Championship 2021 when they beat Nepal courtesy of a lone goal by captain Sunil Chhetri. After the disappointment of two underwhelming draws in the opening two matches against Bangladesh and Nepal it was a much needed victory for the Blue Tigers to keep their faith in their own hands. Once again it wasn’t a convincing performance from Igor Stimac’s side as they struggled to break down the opposition defence. Meanwhile Nepal played with a defensive set up and frustrated the Blue tigers for most parts of the game.

Stimac made five changes to the team that drew goalless against Sri Lanka. Pritam Kotal replaced Seriton Fernandes at right-back,  Brandon Fernandes, Apuia Ralte and Mohammed Yasir started in midfield, and Manvir Singh partnered Chhetri up front. It was a 4-1-3-2 formation with Apuia covering the defence while Brandon and Yasir doing the playmakers job and Suresh Wangjam was full of running down the centre. Meanwhile the width was provided by full backs Mandar Rao and Pritam Kotal because both Brandon and Yasir liked to cut inside and play more centrally.

Nepal allowed India to have the ball possession and tried to hit them on the counter but lacked quality up front to pose any threat to India. However Nepal’s defence was solid enough to frustrate India for more than 80 minutes and the Blue Tigers were wasteful in front of goal.

India couldn’t create too many clear cut chances in the first half and the best opportunity fell to Chhetri after the half-hour mark when an overlapping Suresh sent in a low cross from the right only for the skipper to miss an open goal.

After the break, Yasir managed to cut inside from the right and make space for himself but his shot lacked venom and the Nepal goalkeeper Kiran Chemjong made a comfortable save. Yasir was having a good night as he delivered a brilliant inswinging cross from the right for Manvir but the Indian forward’s close range header was kept out by Kiran’s superb reflex save. 

Stimac brought in Anirudh thapa and Udanta singh two minutes from the hour mark but failed to make any sort of impact. The team was now overloaded with midfielders but couldn’t to open up the opposition defence. 

Chhetri’s 77th international goal

Liston Colaco and Farukh Chaudhary were next to enter the fray and the latter played a role in Chhetri’s goal. Brandon’s overhead ball found Farukh’s diagonal run and the 24-year-old’s flick-on was brilliantly finished off by Chhetri with a first time strike into the top corner in the 82nd minute. It was the 37-year-old’s 77th international goal and he has now equaled legendary Pele’s tally.

Although it was a muted celebration from Chhetri, Stimac was a bit more expressive and rightly so as it was a very frustrating week for the Indian team. But still, the Indian team doesn’t look like they have found the right combination and lacks an understanding which the coach will need to address as soon as possible as they will face Maldives on Wednesday.

Stimac said after the match “I am very happy with the three points, which is keeping us until the very end with a great possibility of finishing in the finals. I am very happy and grateful for how our boys responded today, in nearly everything. I say nearly because scoring is an area where we need to improve. From chances like that we need to score. Otherwise, you have to suffer until the very end. But we need to be patient,” .

The Croatian tactician stated about Chhetri’s goal “He could have made the difference earlier (laughs). He kept us all nervous till the end. We are all very happy for him and for the record. All the team are working so that he can score more goals.”

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