New Delhi - Defending champions India were held to a goalless draw by a spirited Nepal in a rain-marred match but the latter crashed out of the Nehru Cup football tournament here Tuesday.
With the draw, India’s chances of qualifying for its third straight final also took a slight dent. If Maldives beat Cameroon Wednesday, the hosts will have to beat the African side in their last group encounter slated for Friday.
India have seven points from three matches, one more than Maldives and three ahead of Cameroon, who have played one match less.
Nepal put in a much-improved performance from their previous game, which saw them being thrashed 0-5 by Cameroon, and bagged the first points in the tournament.
Incessant rain once again played spoilsport delaying the match by half an hour and making it difficult for the ground passes to be completed.
India made two changes to the side that convincingly beat Maldives 3-0. Denzil Franco replaced the injured Nirmal Chhetri at right-back while winger Sanju Pradhan made way for Anthony Perriera.
Neither team had any clear-cut chances but Nepal looked more threatening of the two. Gourmangi Singh and Raju Gaikwad had a solid game in defence making crucial tackles and interceptions.
Nepal had the game’s first chance but Indian goalkeeper Subrata Paul easily saved Bhola Siwal’s tame shot in the ninth minute.
Rodrigues made his way into the opposition box but both his shots were wayward and didn’t trouble the Nepal goalie.
India’s game had no ebb and flow to it, relying only on hopeful long balls. Nepal in comparison made a few good plays without any end product.
It was the same story in the second half, as Nepal looked the more threatening of the two. Dribbling the ball with great control, Jumanu Rai made a darting run in the box but slipped as soon as he was going to shoot.
India’s game improved as the match wore on. Mehtab played a greater role in the team’s build up play but Rodrigues still struggled to get accustomed to the deteriorating underfoot conditions.
Nepal must thank goalkeeper Kiran Chemjong for denying India the lead. Anthony Perriera’s stinging shot in the 52nd minute was acrobatically saved by the goalie.
Jewel Raja came on for Rodrigues in the 77th minute and could have given India the lead but for Chemjong’s fingertips. He darted into the opposition beating two defenders but his weak shot could only manage a corner.
From the ensuing corner Chemjong bailed out his team again brilliantly saving Robin’s close range shot.
India looked a more cohesive unit in the second half with the Nepali defenders having to do a lot more.
There was drama in the dying minutes of the game as Bikash Chhetri of Nepal was sent-off for dissent. The decision though had no bearing on the game as neither team managed to break the dreadlock.