Thursday, February 22, 2024

Lacklustre India pip Pakistan 1-0 in SAFF Cup opener

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Kathmandu: Defending champions India dished out a listless performance but still managed to beat arch-rivals Pakistan 1-0 and take three points in the opening game of the South Asian Football Federation Championship here on Sunday.

It took an own goal from Pakistan captain Samar Ishaq in the 14th minute to ensure three points for the Sunil Chhetri-led team.

The Indians will take on Bangladesh in their second group league encounter on Tuesday.

The match was billed as a contest between Pakistan defender and former Fulham player Zesh Rahman against Chhetri.

Both disappointed during the 90 minutes of play, however.

While 30-plus Rahman has become slow, Chhetri’s profligacy in the 18-yard box cost India three clear chances.

On all these occasions, the India captain, who is two goals short of Baichung Bhutia’s national goal-scoring record, had the rival custodian at his mercy but his powerful shots were way off the mark.

The winner in the 14th minute was more about a defensive error on the part of Pakistan.

Right wing back Nirmal Chhetri overlapped and tried to find an onrushing Sunil between the two rival stoppers in the opposition box but Pakistan captain Samar, in his bid to keep his Indian counterpart at bay, made a faulty clearance leading to the ball entering his own goal.

India’s best player on the day was young right winger Francis Fernandes, who repeatedly beat opposition left half Kamran Khan; the latter was ultimately replaced in the 33rd minute.

Francis evaded his marker and enjoyed good possession along with two central midfielders, Mehtab Hossain and Lenny Rodrigues.

He made Kamran chase shadows as he essayed a lot of crosses from the right flank.

Just after kick-off, India were rewarded with four flag-kicks in the first four minutes itself.

But Pakistan re-grouped after substitute Saddam Hussain replaced Kamran, although the Indian defence stood tall.

Immediately after change of ends, forward Jeje Lalpekhlua barged in from nowhere trying to nod home a Mehtab free-kick down the right but the Mizoram forward was just off the mark. (PTI)

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