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India 2-1 Chinese Taipei – Robin Singh’s first international goal gives India vital win

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India 2 (Jewel 40, Robin 90+1) – Chinese Taipei 1 (Lee Tai Lin 54)

India lineup: Subrata Pal; Nirmal Chettri, Gouramangi Singh, Raju Gaikwad, Gurjinder Kumar; Francis Fernandes (Syed Rahim Nabi 68), Lenny Rodrigues, Mehtab Hossain, Clifford Miranda, Jewel Raja (Robin Singh 82), Sunil Chhetri.

The Indian national team needed a late winner from East Bengal’s Robin Singh to beat Chinese Taipei 2-1 in their opening Group A match of the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers in Yangon, Myanmar on Saturday.

Mohun Bagan midfielder Jewel Raja had given India the lead in the first half, but Lee Tai Lin equalised in the second half, and for a long time it looked like Wim Koevermans’ side would have to settle for a disappointing draw. However, Robin came off the bench to score a late winning goal, which was also his first in international football.

Koevermans surprised everyone by dropping 2012 AIFF Player of the Year Syed Rahim Nabi to the bench, as Pune FC defender Gurjinder Kumar started at left-back for only his second international cap. Subrata Pal returned in goal, while Nirmal Chettri started at right back.

In a conservative move, Koevermans opted for Jewel just behind skipper Sunil Chhetri in a 4-4-1-1 system, with Jeje Lalpekhlua and Alwyn George missing out.

India started the game slowly but gradually stamped their authority, and were winning some corners. Clearly, the onus was on India to take the game to Chinese Taipei, as Koevermans’ side were under more pressure to get three points, and five minutes before the break the deadlock was broken through Jewel.

The Mohun Bagan midfielder got on the end of Sunil’s through pass and showed great composure to finish past Lu Kun Chi. Jewel scored his first India goal against Chinese Taipei two years ago in the 2012 Challenge Cup qualifiers, and his second one also came against the same opponents.

Koevermans’ team selection certainly paid off, and the Dutch coach couldn’t have wished for a better time to score, as India went into the interval with a one-goal advantage.

India looked to increase their advantage in the second period, but against all odds Chinese Taipei, who are placed four spots below India in the FIFA Rankings, equalised.

The East Asian nation scored through Tai Lin, who headed home Su de Cai’s corner as Subrata lost his clean sheet.

With only the group winners guaranteed a top spot, a draw was never going to be good enough for India, so they had to find a way to score again.

To their credit, Koevermans’ side were putting a lot of pressure on the Chinese Taipei defence, as they were winning plenty of corners.

Nabi was also introduced midway through the second period in place of Francis Fernandes, but India were finding it difficult to score that all-important second goal.

Robin replaced Jewel in the 82nd minute as India went all out for a winner, and fortunately for the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup champions, it arrived in stoppage time.

It was the combination of the two substitutes that produced the winner, as Nabi’s well-measured cross was headed into the back of the net by Robin. It was the former TFA cadet’s first international goal, and he couldn’t have picked a better time to score it.

India held on for the win eventually, and although Koeverman’s team selection can be questioned, his substitutions certainly paid dividends. Team India can now look forward to a clash against Guam on Monday.

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