India began the game slowly, with the first 20-30 minutes offering very few opportunities for either side. Igor Stimac's men were surprisingly cautious in their approach, with their midfield failing to really provide any kind of spark. Suresh Wangjam and Lalengmawia Ralte were excellent at switching play between the wings but struggled with their passes forward.
A well-drilled Nepal side kept India largely in check throughout the first half, but did show signs of feeling the strain late in the half. The most telling moment of the first period came from Mohammad Yasir, arguably India's best player on the night. Yasir was released by right-back Pritam Kotal on the right side of the attack and whipped a dangerous grounded ball into the box.
The pass was perfectly weighted for Indian skipper Chhetri to tap into an empty goal. However, the 37-year-old diverted his effort wide of the post in disappointing fashion.
At half-time, the scores were level but India led in all the key stats. They had enjoyed 78% possession and had taken eight shots on goal with one on target. Nepal, on the other hand, had one shot and none on target.
The second half followed a similar pattern with India constantly looking to penetrate the Nepalese defense. Another fantastic chance came from the feet of Yasir who floated in an excellent cross to Manvir Singh. India's number 9 responded with a header into the ground and rising but Nepal goalie Kiran Chemzong reacted brilliantly to keep it out.
Stimac then threw on Udanta Singh and Anirudh Thapa to inject life into the game. The former was particularly impactful, immediately offering the Blue Tigers more width. Thapa too linked better with the midfield upon being brought on and helped India directly target a tired Nepal midfield. The youngster's introduction also gave Brandon Fernandes more freedom to operate.
Fernandes even supplied Chhetri with a brilliant cross from a set-piece which the veteran forward couldn't direct home. The rebound fell to Subhashish Bose who could only head it straight at Chemzong.
But Fernandes did have the last laugh when another brilliantly lofted ball was headed on into the path of Chhetri. The Indian skipper volleyed home in the 82nd minute to give India all three points.
Here are India's player ratings from their victory over the Maldives:
India Player ratings
Gurpreet Singh Sandhu - 6/10
Sandhu had close to nothing to do all game. He had no saves to make or crosses to catch in what was one of his easier clean-sheet outings. Sandhu's only moment in the spotlight came when he was booked in the second half.
Mandar Rao Desai - 6/10
Desai didn't do too much wrong on the night. The Indian left-back completed 90.3% of his passes and even took a shot. However, the Blue Tigers looked an improved side once he was replaced by Liston Colaco.
Subhashish Bose - 6.5/10
Bose was excellent on the night, constantly keeping the Nepalese attackers in check. He also attempted a staggering 91 passes on the night, completing 87.9% of them and winning three fouls in addition to placing a shot on target as well. Bose was also booked in the second period.
Rahul Bheke - 7/10
Bheke largely operated in cruise-control mode and was hardly troubled by the Nepal forwards. The centre-back completed 91.4% of his barely believable 128 attempted passes and also won a foul.
Pritam Kotal - 7/10
Kotal was also not too troubled playing in the Indian defense. He did, however, make one incredible tackle inside the box to stop Anjan Bista from getting a shot on goal. Kotal registered a shot, two key passes and a tackle on the night.
Brandon Fernandes - 7.5/10
Fernandes was one of India's best players on the night and was a constant menace down the left. The winger managed a game-high six key passes and four shots, though none of those were on target. It was Fernandes' lofted ball that ultimately got India their winner on the night.
Lalengmawia Ralte - 6/10
Ralte struggled to impact the game despite looking bright in patches. His sweeping balls to the wings were excellent at times, but he generally looked just a little short of ideas near the box. Ralte won two tackles and completed 88.3% of his passes.
Suresh Wangjam - 6/10
Another cause for India's fairly bland first half, Wangjam also looked indecisive in the final third. The central midfielder managed a tackle and completed 80% of his passes on the night.
Mohammad Yasir - 8/10
Arguably India's best player on the night, Yasir was simply brilliant against Nepal. Another day, the right-winger would have had two assists to his name but was let down by his forwards. Yasir provided two key passes, had a shot on target and won two tackles in an excellent display.
Sunil Chhetri - 7/10
Chhetri endured a rather frustrating night and it showed. The talismanic forward attempted a game-high eight shots on the night, but managed just two on target one of which inevitably proved to be the match-winner. Stimac will be happy with the goal, but he and Chhetri will know the Indian skipper can't afford to be as wasteful going forward. Regardless, Chhetri deserves credit for bouncing back after that horrendous open-goal miss in the first half.
Manvir Singh - 6.5/10
Manvir Singh did well to tire out the Nepal defense, but did little of note otherwise. He was an energetic presence upfront, registering a shot on target and completing 76.9% of his passes.
Udanta Singh - 6.5/10
Udanta Singh replaced Manvir Singh in the 58th minute and instantly proved his worth. The forward allowed India to open up more spaces in midfield and made some good decoy runs in the box.
Anirudh Thapa - 6/10
Thapa was bright after coming on for Wangjam in the 58th minute, but his presence seemed to waver off towards the end.
Liston Colaco - 6/10
Colaco, who replaced Desai in the 70th minute, miscontrolled the very first ball that came his way, sending it out for a throw-in. But he recovered his composure quickly and caused all kinds of problems for the tired Nepal midfield with his change of pace and movement.
Farukh Choudhary - 7/10
Choudhary ultimately got the match-winning assist, heading on Fernandes' aerial pass into the path of Chhetri for him to volley it in. He was the perfect impact substitute India needed after replacing Yasir in the 70th minute.
Sahal Samad - N/A
He came on for Ralte in the 87th minute but had no time to leave any impact on the match.