GUWAHATI, March 12 � A brace by the Indian vice-captain Sunil Chhetri put the home team ahead in the Asian zonal qualifying match against Nepal. After a fruitless first session, Sunil struck in the 53rd and 70th minutes respectively.
Undoubtedly it is one of the weakest zones of world football and it was clear why it is so. Both Nepal and India were in poor shape in the 2018 FIFA World Cup and 2019 AFC Asian Cup Preliminary Joint Qualification encounter here at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium today. Both the teams started on a clumsy note and players were often jeered for missed passes and technical errors.
However, Stephen Constaine�s boys dominated the first session with better ball control and attack at the opponent�s goal. The Indian coach would blame his striker Robin Singh for squandering at least three scoring opportunities within 35 minutes into the game. Francisco Fernandez was the other offender who missed the target in the 43rd minute off a vice- captain Sunil Chhetri pass.
After a listless first quarter of the game the Indian attackers, led by Sunil marginally improved their performance. The combo attack of Sunil-Robin and Sunil-Fransisco often puzzled the Nepal defenders in the later part of the first session.
The Indian team sprang into life after Sunil�s first goal, who beat Nepal custodian Kiran Limbu with a 25-yard grounder. Nepal coach Jack Stefanowski should blame Kiran for not anticipating as it was not a sharp shot. The nimble-footed Sunil enhanced the margin again with a grounder from top of the box when Nepal defender Biraj Maharjan let the Indian striker snatch the ball from him. Sunil again unleashed a controlled shot and the ball rolled into the goal at the far corner.
Sunil could have recorded a rare hattrick in an international match had he not missed a spot kick in the 80th minute. The penalty was awarded for handling the ball by Nepal defender Sandip Rai inside the box.
Nepal youngster Bimal Magar Gharti almost singlehandedly fought at their upfont. He almost beat the Indian custodian off a set piece in the 34th minute but the Indian captain Subrata Paul did a splendid job under the bar and fisted the ball away. Bimal badly missed an able striking partner.
Assam boy Holicharan Narzary made his international debut as he was substituted in the last part of the match.
Sunil deservingly won the man-of-the-match award which was given away by The Assam Tribune Group of Publications Director Surajit Govinda Baruah.