India unimpressive, lucky to get a point (Lead)

December 3rd, 2011 - 8:36 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Dec 3 (IANS) India were lucky to get away with a 1-1 draw and a point against lower-placed Afghanistan in their first match of the SAFF Cup football tournament at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium here Saturday.

The Indians were unimpressive against the spirited Afghans and nothing seemed to go well for them from the moment the Afghans struck through their Norway-based striker Balal Arezo in the fifth minute. The hosts did well to equalise within five minutes thanks to Sunil Chettri who was on the field a day after returning from Glasgow trials with Scottish giants Rangers.

Afghanistan dominated the play for long periods and were impressive with their speed and passing game. India, ranked 162nd, had to do the catching up job. Their mid-field and defence wore a petrified look against the 178th-ranked Afghanistan.

The Indians were under tremendous pressure as the Afghans split the defence with immaculate ball distribution of left-winger Sanjar Ahmadi. His understanding with Arezo, who plays for Norwegian second-division club Asker, was perfect.

Arezo’s opening goal was a great one. He latched on to a loose ball from defender Mahesh Gawli and his powerful right-footer went screaming past goalkeeper Karanjit Singh.

Stung by the reverse, India went on the offensive and in the 10th minute Chettri nodded in a swerving flag-kick from Steven Dias. India suddenly found spring in their steps. Had it not been for the profligacy of midfielder Clifford Miranda, the hosts could have ended the stalemate in the first-half itself by taking the lead.

Miranda’s header from Dias’ cross from the right landed on the roof of the net in the 27th minute. Four minutes later, Miranda’s feeble right-footer to a precision-packed Dias pass was parried away by goalkeeper Hameedullah Yousufzari.

Afghanistan enjoyed maximum ball possession in the first half and came close to breaking the deadlock in the 39th minute after Haroon Fakhrudin set-up Arezo, but the striker took too long and Karanjit punched it away for the corner.

In the dying minutes of the first half, Dias curled it in from the edge of the box for Chettri but Yousufzari punched it away as both the sides went into the break 1-1.

India were denied a penalty within two minutes of resumption as the players appealed for hand-ball by defender Moqadar Faizullah off Miranda’s flag-kick, but Malaysian referee Nagor Amir turned it down.

Afghanistan stepped up the attack in the last 10 minutes and had a couple of chances that went abegging.

Substitute Masaiullah Ibrahim slipped into the Indian penalty area in the 89th minute but Karanjit rushed to kick the ball to safety. The Indian custodian made another brilliant save in the injury time to thwart a powerful shot from Sanjar Ahmadi, who was set up well by Mohammad Esrafil.

(Abhishek Roy can be contacted at abhishek.roy@ians.in)

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