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India struggles to hold Chinese Taipei

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CELEBRATION TIME: Pradeep (right) of India, who scored both the goals celebrates with Sushil Singh.
CELEBRATION TIME: Pradeep (right) of India, who scored both the goals celebrates with Sushil Singh.

K. Keerthivasan

CHENNAI: To criticise India’s 2-2 draw with Chinese Taipei in the second International friendly match at the Nehru Stadium here on Tuesday would be a tad radical and to praise its display beyond a certain limit could well be termed as an exaggeration.

The match did have its seminal moments. There is little doubt that the contest turned out to be an advertisement for Chinese Taipei’s fighting spirit and aggression. Much to the surprise of the local fans and perhaps everyone, India was stretched to its limits.

Twice, the host had to come back from being a goal down. If India was able to salvage some pride, it was mainly thanks to star striker N.P. Pradeep. His brace saved the blushes and carried the day for India.

Not a decibel was raised by the crowd when Chinese Taipei went ahead in the early minutes of the first session.

Chen Po-Liang took the defence by surprise. Subrata Paul, however, was alive to the occasion. But Liang’s fine crisp chip off the left foot sailed well above the outstretched hands of Subrata Paul and into the net.

Improving

From then on, the visitor improved by leaps and bounds. The wings worked like a well-oiled machine. The forwards ran as if they had wheels in their legs. There is a certain joy and satisfaction at watching the Chinese Taipei’s players. Though almost all of them were wiry, the speed and the strength of spirit and mind they showed were exemplary.

India, on the other hand, displayed spunk and character. But only in parts. Ranked almost twenty places above Chinese Taipei at 151, India, certainly, was expected to put up a better show than what it dished out.

The defence looked shaky though it got better as the match progressed. India’s captain and star Baichung Bhutia’s touch was evident, but he was well-marked and could hardly do anything substantial. Sunil Chetri, too played his heart out. When it came to striking the crucial blows, the two fell short.

Bhutia gave a glimpse of his class when his aerial pass was vigorously headed home by Pradeep; his header touched the crosspiece and entered into the net.

Second strike

The equaliser coming late in the first half gave India the much needed vigour and confidence. India was soon taken aback by the second strike from the visitor minutes after the break. Hsieh Meng-Hsuan’s excellent right-footer from long range gave little chance to custodian Paul.

Struggling to dominate the proceedings, Pradeep, the Nehru Cup hero last year, became the saviour. Waiting near the goalmouth like a tiger waiting for its prey, Pradeep sneaked one through the legs of goalkeeper Lu Kun-Chi, much to the relief of the few hundred spectators.

Earlier, Babu Manoharan, Director, St. Joseph’s College of Engineering, inaugurated the tournament. India had defeated Chinese Taipei 3-0 in Goa in the first friendly.

The Indian team will leave the city on May 31 to Maldives for the SAFF Cup.

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