Chhangte stars in India's 4-1 win over Nepal; India seal place in SAFF Cup semis

sunil chhetriTRIVANDRUM: The Indian Senior National Team registered a 100% win record in the Group Stages of the SAFF Suzuki Cup 2015 to seal a place in the semi-finals of the tournament as group winners as the Men in Blue thumped Nepal 4-1 at the Trivandrum International Stadium in Kerala today (December 27, 2015).

Coming on the back of a convincing 2-0 win over Sri Lanka, the Indian contingent ran out eventual winners against Nepal, courtesy strikes from Rowlin Borges (18th), Sunil Chhetri (76th) and two exquisite Lallianzuala Chhangte goals in the 81st and 89th minute respectively.

However, it was India’s opponents Nepal who took the lead -- as early as the 3rd minute to test the spirit and commitment of Constantine’s boys. The Indian contingent however had other plans as their spirits were seldom deterred by the early Nepali goal.

In the 8th minute, India were awarded with an opportunity to level proceedings had the Nepali defence line not made a superb timed tackle to deny Sunil Chhetri a clear shot on goal. Shortly after, Sanju Pradhan’s shot which was aimed to catch the Nepali custodian off position was defused by the Nepali defence line.

With India overcoming their shaky start and controlling the tempo of the match, Bikash Jairu was given an opportunity to make Nepal pay following a deft Halicharan header in the 18 yard box in the 23rd minute. Jairu however, failed to make contact as the opportunity went abegging.

Three minutes later, India equalized their deficit as Rowlin Borges scored his first International goal, blasting his chance into the top corner from a free-kick to make the score-line 1-1.

While the Indian attack line pressurized the Nepali defence line, the Indian midfield cancelled and intercepted Nepali attacks. India were awarded with an opportunity even in the dying embers of the match but it went abegging as Jairu failed to make clean contact with the ball. The half-time score line read 1-1.

Changing over, and Coach Constantine made his first change of the match as he introduced 18 year old Lallianzuala for Sanju Pradhan.

Four minutes into the second half and Subrata Paul made a fine top-draw save to deny Nepal a chance to take the lead. Shortly after, it was the 18 year old Lallianzuala, who had a chance at the other end. Lallianzuala ran clear onto goal, but was tussled off possession by the Nepali defence line before he could put on his shooting boots.

In the 67th minute of the match, Sunil Chhetri cleverly toe-poked the ball home after an uncanny clearance from the Nepali defence line to give India a solitary goal lead as the score-line read 2-1.

Almost second later, Lallianzuala’s shot which would’ve been a certain goal was sweeped away by a goal line clearance from the Nepali defence line. In the 76th minute, Jeje’s shot on goal was saved acrobatically by the Nepali custodian as India attacked with vigor and searched for their third.

In the 81st minute India’s third came. And the way it did was almost cinematic. 18 year old Lallianzuala cut inside from the right flank, feinted past a Nepali defender and unleashed a venomous curling shot onto goal which found the light of day, making it his first International goal for India as the score-line read 3-1.

As part of Coach Constantine’s plan to ‘build a Team for the future’, 22 year old Kousik Sarkar who has plied his trade in the local leagues only made his India debut as he came on for Augustine Fernandes in the 87th minute.

Two minutes later, Rowlin Borges and Lallianzuala combined for India’s fourth and the latter’s second as Borges released a well-timed ball for Lallianzuala, only for the 18 year old to head home as the scoreline read 4-1.

The full-time scoreline also read the same as India progressed into the Semi-Finals of the Tournament and will face either Afghanistan or Maldives on New Year’s eve at the Trivandrum International Stadium.

India starting XI against Nepal: Subrata Paul; Aiborlang Khongjee, Augustine Fernandes (87’ – Kousik Sarkar – 503rd Player to debut for India), Pritam Kotal, Narayan Das; Sanju Pradhan (45’ – Lallianzuala), Eugeneson Lyngdoh, Rowlin Borges, Bikash Jairu, Halicharan Narzary, Sunil Chhetri (Captain)(71’ – Jeje Lalpekhlua).

By Joseph Solomon,
AIFF Media Team