India can heave a sigh of relief at the 1-1 draw that Lebanon and Kyrgyzstan produced in the Nehru Cup at the Ambedkar Stadium here on Tuesday.
The result put Kyrgyzstan, one point from three matches, out of contention while Lebanon has four points with one match to go. India, three points from two matches, and Syria, six points from two matches, are the other teams in the race for a place in the final.
Lebanon and Kyrgyzstan played some entertaining football. It was clear that both had decided to play the attacking game and Lebanon did not flinch even after conceding a goal in the 48th minute.
The goal was scored by Zemlianuhin Anton, who drove the ball in from 25 yards. It was a stunning strike from Anton who played his heart out. He should have scored earlier but his shot hit the post.
Kyrgyzstan, which had lost both its matches, was an improved lot on Tusday evening. It depended on man to man marking and caught the opposition napping with a few sensational counterattacks. But it failed to finish the moves.
On the other hand, Lebanon used the flanks to sustain the pressure. It did well to nullify Kyrgyzstans lead within eight minutes when Abbas Ahmad Atwi placed the ball with a low drive.
A glorious chance came Lebanons way when Hassan Maatouk stunned the defence with a sizzling cross that flashed across the face of the goal.
Having cleared the test against Kyrgyzstan, the Indians find themselves in a similar position. The opponent is Sri Lanka, an inspired outfit which knows its strengths quite well.
India did not start on a confident note. The defeat against Lebanon was a blow to a side that had lad big emphasis on preparing on a sound footing. The win against Kyrgyzstan in the next match was a boost even as Baichung Bhutia played the central role in the minor resurgence.
Indias woes have not reduced after that victory and the challenge is to win against Sri Lanka. Nothing short of a victory will keep India in the reckoning and Bhutias team realises the task that lies ahead.
The progress the team had made in the period when Bob Houghton took over would be known over the next two matches against Sri Lanka and Syria.
Houghton wants football lovers of the Capital to pack the stadium and support the team. Crowd support plays a big role in football, he had noted.
Sri Lanka made a big impression when it outclassed Lebanon in its first match but the defeat against Syria exposed the shortcomings in a big way. Sri Lanka made the tactical error of trying to match the Syrians in speed.
Lanka coach confident
Sri Lanka coach Sampath Pereira was confident his team would pull it off. India is good but not invincible. We may not have had the same kind of preparation as India but we are motivated, said Mr. Pereira.
Sri Lanka had played the last match against Syria with four players having fever. They should be fit tomorrow, assured the Sri Lankan coach, promising an intense match.
India is expected to make one change in the line up against Sri Lanka with Surkumar Singh replacing Deepak Mondal.
Wednesdays match: India v Sri Lanka.