Nepal put up a tenacious display to split points with India in the Nehru Cup clash at the Nehru Stadium here on Tuesday.
The goalless draw took India’s tally to seven points with a match against Cameroon in hand, while Nepal earned its first point of the tournament.
Clearly, Nepal was more determined since it had nothing to lose.
A sizeable section in the stands lent vocal support to Nepal and the team was motivated enough to raise its game. For the record, Nepal has not won a contest at the senior level for 19 years now.
It may not have been entertaining stuff but there were some thrilling moments in the well-contested encounter. It poured and then it turned into a drizzle as the teams took the field and lost little time in getting down to business.
Once again, ball control remained a challenge as it skidded and stopped. The Nepalese adapted better and called the shots initially with a few forays into the Indian box.
The Indian fort remained under siege as Nepal attacked relentlessly. Bharat Khawas was a constant threat on the right flank with support from Jumanu Rai and Jagjeet Shrestha.
This trio excelled with short passes and displayed a remarkable understanding of the conditions. Their ability to adapt spoke volumes for their skills with Khawas and Rai giving the Indian defence a torrid time.
India was off-colour most of the first session. Sunil Chhetri, thanks to some splendid marking, hardly made his presence felt and it was left to a hardworking Lenny Rodrigues to attempt long-rangers twice.
But they were way off the mark. Nepal looked impressive as it explored menacingly but failed to translate its efforts into goals.
One of the best moves came midway through the first session when Bhola Siwal floated the ball into the goalmouth but Gauramangi Singh denied Khawas a header. A series of corner kicks followed but India defended hard to keep the Nepalese at bay.
India’s first real opportunity came in the 52nd minute when Chhetri found himself at the edge of the box with the Nepal defence in a quandary. The ball fell loose and an onrushing Anthony Pereira let go a stinging drive that was acrobatically tipped over the bar by Nepal goalkeeper Kiran Chemjong. The move impacted India’s approach and there was a flurry of aggressive forays.
Rodrigues performed the playmaker’s role to the best of his abilities and created opportunities for substitutes Jewel Raja and Robin Singh. Both produced crisp drives but Chemjong was alert under the bar. Chhetri let go once but straight to the goalkeeper. India hit back well in the closing stages of the match but a goal remained out of reach. The match ended on a jarring note for Nepal’s Bikash Singh Chhetri who was sent off for dissent.
The result: India 0 drew with Nepal 0.
Wednesday’s fixture: Cameroon v Maldives. 7 p.m.
Keywords: Nehru Cup football tournament