Team India achieved a sensational start to their SAFF Championship journey after they overwhelmed Pakistan 4-0 on the evening of 21st June. Their second match was against another neighbouring country, Nepal. The past meetings of both nations showed that it would be an easy win for India, however, the match was anything but.
Nepal showed their resilience and did not let India score for an entire half. it was only in the second half that a well-executed pass and a swift tap-in by Sunil Chhetri drove the ball into the net and broke the dry spell. An alert Mahesh Singh’s header sealed the coffin for Nepal and secured a ticket for India into the Semi-Finals. India is up to play against Kuwait on the 27th.
Like all other matches, this was played in Sree Kanteerava stadium. India played the match in their orange away kit, while Nepal donned the colour blue. The match was played under wet conditions. The 5 key takeaways are as follows.
1. India smoothly sails into the semi-finals
The ship helmed by skipper Sunil Chhetri rides the waves into the semi-finals having cleared the group stage with 2 victories in the hold. India began their SAFF endeavour with a crushing victory over Pakistan. A hard-earned win secured against Nepal ensured that they are moving on to the semi-finals.
The captain, Sunil has been integral in India’s success in the SAFF. He has scored 91 goals in his international career with more on the way. The contribution of the other players has been immense and key to the success so far. Mahesh Singh, Udanta Singh and Sahal were integral in the evening’s proceedings. The young talents chosen by Coach Stimac have been proving their worth in the matches so far. The Indian team are maintaining an 8-match streak of clean sheets.
2. Key Changes
After the India vs Pakistan match, the lineup of the evening’s match had eight new players present in the starting 11. The only players common were Anirudh Thapa, Chhetri and Sahal Samad. Clearly, there were significant changes and it reflected in the match between India and Nepal.
The gloves of Amrinder Singh was replaced by those of Gurpreet Singh Sandhu. The entire defensive lineup from Wednesday was replaced. Sandesh Jhingan and Subhashish Bose were replaced by Rahul Bheke and Akash Mishra. While Sunil Chhetri remained a constant, the wingers were replaced by Naorem Mahesh Singh and Udanta Singh.
This changes ensured all players enjoyed valuable play time while giving us new players to marvel at such as Mahesh Singh.
3. Magic Mahesh
Mahesh Singh left onlookers spellbound in the match. He replaced Ashish Kuruniyan in the left wing and dominated it for the duration. He was involved in both the goals of the evening and made his presence on the field known right from the get-go. He went for the target in the 7th minute but it missed. A bit later he made a brilliant pass to Sahal who unfortunately could not capitalise on the opportunity.
In the second half, his efforts bore fruit. A pass from the wing to Chhetri found its way effortlessly behind the keeper. He scored the second goal by heading the ball in after it bounced off the crossbar. The play was made by Sahal and Chhetri where the latter’s shot narrowly missed and hit the bar but did not go out of play allowing Mahesh to score.
At 24 years he is already one of the best wingers that the Indian team possesses and he has a long way to go. He was integral in the match’s proceedings and one can understand why the coach trusted him to fill in the shoes of Ashique Kuruniyan who played in the previous match.
4. Nepal Rising
Nepal is one of the rising international football teams in the SAFF. While their history has been rocky, recent efforts to improve their performance have been showing themselves. They have signed in Italian Coach Vincenzo Annese who has extensive experience from coaching all over the world as well as having coached Indian teams such as Gokulam and NorthEast United FC.
These efforts have shown themselves to some extent in the match despite having lost. They were able to repel India’s offence for an entire half. They also came very close on a few occasions to breaking India’s clean sheet streak.
5. Sahal Blows Hot and Cold
In the match, Sahal Samad can be remembered for his involvement in both goals but his performance was not consistent. In the first half, he made a few errors that would have added more goals to the scoreboard.
However, his performance after halftime makes one forget that he was not playing well in the first half. His passes became more precise and he started playing to his strengths, the result of which could be clearly seen on the scoreboard. Sahal while having great potential has great room for improvement and become more consistent in his performance on the pitch.
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