India were held to a goalless draw by a gutsy Nepalese side in the 3rd round of games of the Nehru Cup at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. Nepal, playing against the hosts, with a decent crowd behind them, dished out an inspirational show to shut out the Blue Tigers for a full 90 minutes. Starting with five players in midfield, India failed to dominate the proceedings against Nepal, who ended the game with 10 men after Bikas Chhetri was sent off under controversial circumstances in the dying moments of the game, ultimately finishing the game without a goal.

Due to incessant rains, the match was delayed by half an hour, with the game being played on a muddy pitch. Once the game began, the effects of a watery pitch began to show, as both sets of players scrapped the ball around the ground, even finding it tough to pass the ball to their team mates. India, playing in their saffron kit, found it difficult to control possession, with Nepal dominating initially. Despite Wim Koevermans going with five midfielders, it was the Nepalese midfield that controlled the show. The left flank of Nepal, in particular, made Anthony Pereira and Denzil Franco work hard early on, as most of the chances went Nepal’s way. In the 13th minute, India’s neighbouring nation created four corners consecutively, although the end product of these corners came to nought.

After the fourth corner was cleared, the ball fell to India’s Lenny Rodrigues, who ran towards the goal and attempted a weak shot that failed to cause any problem to the Nepalese goalkeeper. Mehtab Hossain, playing in a holding position for India, was made to work hard on quite a few occasions by his Nepalese counterparts. In the 28th minute, Nepal’s Sandip Rai let fly a low free kick towards the Indian goal, which forced the Indian custodian Subrata Paul to dive and block the shot.

As the  game progressed, Nepal grew in confidence and continued its raids on the Indian goal, with Anthony Pereira falling back in order to guard his country’s right flank, which was being continuously bombarded by the talented Nepalese side. The fact that India’s first shot on Nepal’s goal came three minutes prior to the half time interval goes on to display India’s frail offence during the first 45 minutes of the game. The sluggish nature of the pitch didn’t help either side as both the countries headed towards the tunnel for the lemon break. India

With India struggling to penetrate the Nepalese defence, coach Wim Koevermans introduced striker Robin Singh to add more steel to his side’s attack, with Clifford Miranda being subbed off for the hosts. In the 48th minute of the game, a defensive scramble at India’s goalmouth almost yielded a goal for Nepal, with the hosts parrying away the ball to safety eventually, preventing the impressive Sandip Rai from giving Nepal the lead. With India playing with two strikers from the commencement of the second half, India started getting the share of chances in the game. A few minutes into the second half, Sunil Chhetri fed winger Anthony Pereira with the ball a few yards away from the goal. Pereira struck the ball powerfully, but the Nepalese goalkeeper K Chemjong was equal to the Indian winger’s effort, making a decent save to keep the scores level.


Sunil Chhetri and Sandip Rai

India slowly grew into the game, as the Nepalese defence began to fall back. The hosts launched continuous offensives on the Nepalese side, as the latter’s players began to tire out. Denzil Franco combined well with Francis Fernandes during this half, as the duo started causing problems to Nepal’s defence. With a quarter of an hour remaining in the game, India introduced Jewel Raja in place of Lenny Rodrigues in order to give a run to the Nepalese midfield.

In the 82nd minute, India’s substitute Jewel Raja agonizingly hit the post from a decent shot after he created some space in front of Nepal’s goal following some neat play from the Indian midfielder. The other substitute of the host nation, Robin Singh, too had his share of attempts at the goal, all of which were saved by goalkeeper Chemjong. However, it was Jewel Raja who created most of the chances after his introduction in the 75th minute. The game ended in controversial circumstances as Nepal had one of their players, Bikas Chhetri, sent off after the player’s verbal altercation with the match referee. India had two of their chances saved before the  referee finally blew the full-time whistle.

With India set to take on favourites Cameroon on 31st, it is important that Wim Koevermans sorts out his team’s attack. A change in tactics may help the hosts, whose fans have been calling for the introduction of youngster Alwyn George in the starting line-up for the next games. Starting with two strikers may turn out to be the tonic for Wim Koevermans’s boys, who drew blanks against Nepal. Moreover, the decent showing of midfielder Jewel Raja against Nepal, following his introduction into the game, may force the Dutchman to revamp his midfield against a strong Cameroonian side.

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