The Indian national team kicked-off their SAFF Championship 2011 campaign with a disappointing 1-1 draw against underdogs Afghanistan.
Afghanistan took advantage of an error in the Indian backline and scored an early goal through Balal Arezo in the 5th minute.
But the Indian team didn’t surrender and played a controlled game. Savio Medeira’s men were rewarded only five minutes after Afghanistan took the lead.
Sunil Chhetri headed home a well taken corner by Steven Dias and leveled the score in the 10th minute to the delight of the home fans at the Jawaharal Nehru Stadium.
Afghanistan, packed with foreign-based players from the US, Germany and Cyprus, managed to give the Indian team a tough time in midfield by pressing aggressively. The compact Afghan midfield dispossessed the Indians on a number of times, but the Indian defence kept them away from the own box.
The Indian team almost completed a good build-up successfully in the 27th minute, when a Steven Dias cross from the right side found Clifford Miranda in the box. But Clifford’s header missed the target and the score remained 1-1.
India were lucky, when Balal Arezo failed to convert an easy scoring opportunity in the 39th minute. Afghan captain Haroon Fakhrudin delivered a through ball to Arezo and the striker could have put the ball past Karanjit Singh in the Indian goal. But Gouramangi Singh and Karanjit managed to spoil Arezo’s attempt.
Both teams went into the breather with a 1-1 draw and India coach Savio Medeira didn’t look like a statisfied man. Afghanistan gave the Indians a good fight throughout the first half.
India started the second half with a corner by Steven and a resulting header by Syed Rahim Nabi in the 47th minute. But the Afghan keeper Hameedullag Yousufzai showed some good reflexes and saved Nabi’s attempt.
On the other side Djelaludin Sharityar’s long-range attempt in the 49th minute took a dangerous deflection and missed the target just by inches.
Sunil Chhetri missed a sitter for India in the 55th minute. The striker received a well-timed cross from skipper Climax Lawrence from the right flank. Sunil got past Afghan defender Moqadar Faizullah and volleyed the ball over the crossbar from a short distance.
India increased the pressure on Afghanistan in the second half. It seemed like Savio Medeira found the right words at half-time to give his wards a wake-up call. But it was not the clear dominance the Indian fans expected from their stars.
A brilliant run by Syed Rahim Nabi down the left flank resulted in a header by Jeje Lalpekhlua in the 65th minute. But the header by the young striker missed the target and didn’t cause any danger to the Afghan goal.
Afghanistan displayed some confidence and they knew that they could pull a surprise result against hot favourites India. The Afghan team didn’t rely on counter attacks and always looked for their chance to score the virtual winner, although the Indian team managed to keep them away from the own goal on most of the occasions.
Jeje Lalpekhlua made an attempt to score for India in the 86th minute. The striker, who just returned from a trial with Scottish giants Rangers FC, fired a shot on target from the edge of the area. But the Afghan keeper punched the ball away and kept his team in the match.
Karanjit Singh denied Afghanistan to register a win in the dying moments of the match, when the Indian keeper pulled a superb save against a long-range shot by Massod Hashmi.
Both teams settled for a 1-1 draw, with Afghanistan winning a surprising point against defending champions India in front of a handful fans at the venue.