Lebanon, with an aggregate of 6-3, progresses to the next round
Margao: India fought back to hold Lebanon 2-2 in the World Cup football qualifying round-one second-leg match here at the Nehru Stadium but the home team’s effort was not enough to see it through to the next stage.
India, which needed a 3-0 victory margin to qualify for the next round, took the lead in the 29th minute through Sunil Chhetri but failed to take advantage of the scoring chances in the second half.
Substitute Mohammed Ghaddar, who was instrumental in Lebanon’s 4-1 win at home in the first leg, was again its saviour when he scored both the goals in the 80th and 86th minutes.
Baichung Bhutia managed to level the score 2-2 when he scored in injury time off a header from a corner kick by Steven Dias. Lebanon, with an aggregate of 6-3, thus made it to the next round.
Both teams started cautiously as play was confined to the midfield for a major part of the first half.
India made the first move in the 23rd minute through Bhutia who set up Chhetri inside the box. The latter got the better of a defender but shot straight into the hands of ’keeper Larry Mehanna.
India went ahead in the 29th minute when Dias sent a long lob into the box to an unmarked Chhetri whose header hit the post before entering the net.
India continued to hold the edge in the second half and had a chance to double the lead but N. Pradeep wasted the opportunity when he drove the ball straight into the hands of Mehanna from close range.
India suffered a jolt midway in the second half when ’keeper Subrato Paul brought down El Ali Mohammad inside the box, thereby earning a red card and conceding a penalty.
Defender Samir Naik had to make way for Sandip Nandy, the second goalkeeper.
The resultant penalty kick was taken by Ghaddar who beat Nandy to his left to draw level.
Ghaddar then put his team ahead in the 86th minute when he dodged past a couple of Indian defenders before drawing Nandy out to place the ball into the net. India managed to score in the dying minutes through Bhutia. — PTI
Our Special Correspondent adds from Chennai:
“It was a just result,” said Hassan Choughari, the administrative manager of the Lebanese delegation.
Speaking to The Hindu from Margao, he said as compared to Saida (where the first-leg was held), “the Indian team played very well. The formation was good.
“The attack looked sharper. In particular, we were impressed with the displays of Chhetri, Bhutia, (sub) Clifford Miranda and Dias. They put a lot of pressure on us,” he added.
Mr. Choughari said: “Football in India is really looking up. I am sure in the days to come, India will be a strong team.”
A disappointed Bob Houghton, India’s chief coach, said: “Pradeep missing a goal at the start of second session was the turning point. Had we gone 2-0 then, it could have been different.
“Thereafter the penalty that we conceded and with the red carding of Paul it was all over for us. We could not go for attacking substitutions and the whole complexion of the game changed.”
Yet Houghton was pleased that “with 10 men, we could hold Lebanon.”
He praised the efforts of Dias.