2018 World Cup Qualifiers: Chhetri's brace helps confident India defeat Nepal 2-0 in first leg
Sunil Chhetri’s brace guided India to a convincing 2-0 victory over Nepal in the first match of the two-legged round 1 of FIFA World Cup 2018 qualification.
Chhetri broke the deadlock in the 53rd minute and scored his second goal in the 71st minute. The Indian starting line-up saw four debutants, namely Eugeneson Lyngdoh, Saumik Dey, Sandesh Jhingan and Pritam Kotal.
India grew into the game gradually but couldn’t convert their chances
The home side started the game in a lackluster manner. They were playing long balls from the midfield which proved to be ineffective. Nepal too did not provide much entertaining football and were happy to play on the counter. Sunil Chhetri was heavily marked by the Nepalese defenders and was not given an inch of space in the opening stages.
India improved slowly as the game progressed. Around the half hour mark, Bengaluru FC forward Robin Singh got the first genuine opportunity to give India the lead. Sunil Chhetri forwarded a decent ball to his club mate, but Robin, who was in a comfortable position blasted the ball way above the goal.
Minutes later, Robin got yet another opportunity. The goalkeeper came forward to block the Indian forward, who just had to chip it over the custodian, but his shot hit the side netting. Just before the end of the first half, Francis should have given India the lead, but his shot was saved by Chemjong in the Nepal goal.
In the first half itself, India could have gone up by a minimum of two goals, had they not missed those sitters.
Chhetri’s brilliance helped India score two good goals
India looked more motivated to get the breakthrough in the second half and were much more quick with their passing. Their approach and effort was rewarded in the 53rd minute when the Indian vice-captain Sunil Chhetri found the back of the net with a neat finish from outside the box.
Stephen Constantine made an intelligent substitution in the 61st minute, bringing in yet another debutant Jackichand Singh in place of an ineffective Lalrindika Ralte. Jackichand got an immediate opportunity to score his maiden international goal, but his effort was ruled out for offside.
Sunil Chhetri increased the lead in the 71st minute with a solo effort, this time with his right foot. He dribbled past one Nepalese defender gracefully and found the back of the net with ease.
The away side looked helpless and failed to threaten the Indian defense. India on the other hand looked hungry for more goals.
Another second half substitute, Cavin Lobo earned a penalty in the dying stages of the match. Lobo dribbled neatly and entered the opponent’s penalty box. Just when he was about to shoot, he was brought down. Chhetri had a good opportunity to complete his third international hat-trick but was thwarted by Chemjong, who pulled off an incredible save.
India now have a clear advantage in this two-legged encounter against Nepal. Nepal will have an uphill task to turn the odds in their favour in the next game. The Blue Tigers clearly were a much better side and outplayed their counterparts in all the departments.