Lallianzuala Chhangte created history, scoring a late brace and becoming India’s second youngest ever goal scorer, after goals from Rowlin Borges and Sunil Chhetri gave India the lead over a competitive Nepal side. The result means India are through to the SAFF Suzuki Cup semifinals, while Nepal are out of the tournament, with Sri Lanka qualifying at their expense.
With this encounter being a must win for Nepal, it was surprising to see their prime talent Anil Gurung benched alongwith Bikram Lama, with Bishal Rai and Nawayug Shreshta starting in their place. Stephen Constantine rang in the changes after India’s 2-0 win over Sri Lanka just 48 hours earlier, drafting in Subrata Paul, Aiborlang Khongjee, Bikash Jairu, Rowlin Borges and Holicharan Narzary for Arnab Mondal, Robin Singh, Gurpreet Sandhu, Pronay Halder and Jeje.
First Half :
The Blue Tigers started the game more like purring pussycats, as Nepal seemed direct and incisive with their early running. The hosts were given a rude awakening in the 3rd minute as Nepal took the lead in decisive fashion.
Rohit Chand’s intelligent ball forward saw Nawayug Shresta isolated against Augustin Fernandes, which allowed the Nepal forward to get a scuffed shot past Subrata Paul but richochet off the post. The ball fell to Bimal Magar, and the highly rated Nepali youngster calmly slotted the ball into an empty net, giving the underdogs a surprise 1-0 lead.
The Blue Tigers came roaring back, as Sunil Chhetri was put clean through by a lovely diagonal pass from Sanju Pradhan. The Indian skipper fluffed his lines with an uncultured first touch, and coupled with a last ditch tackle from Aditya Chaudhary, allowed the chance to go begging.
Nepal and India traded shots in an end-to-end encounter, with Pradhan and Bikash Jairu going close for the hosts. India were soon level though, as their pressure eventually paid off. A lovely left-footed free kick from Narayan Das fell to Pritam Kotal, who shielded the ball into Rowlin Borges’ path. The midfielder responded with aplomb, hammering home his first international goal for India in the 26th minute, thus levelling the scores at 1-1.
The game descended into a scrappy affair as both sides attempted to gain the upper hand. Chhetri was left frustrated upfront for India, as Nepal’s defensive duo of Maharjan and Chaudhary marshalled him well, often leaving him isolated.
As the first half concluded, Nepal got a couple of long range-efforts in, which Subrata Paul dealt with ease, allowing Constantine to deliver a relatively positive team-talk as India were level at the break.
Second Half :
Constantine made a change to his side as play resumed in the second half, drafting in India’s second youngest ever player, Chhangte Lallianzuala for Sanju Pradhan. Nepal substituted their goalscorer, Bimal Magar for Jagjit Shrestha as the sides took to the field.
Lallianzuala was immediately into the action, the much-hyped Mizo sensation beat a couple of Nepali defenders and dovetailed well with Chhetri but the move petered out. India repeated their mistake of starting slowly in defence, as both Pritam and Augustin were caught unawares in the 49th minute, resulting in Subrata Paul having to call on his superb reflexes and keep out a well struck shot from Anjan Bista.
Nepal began to control possesion as the second half wore on, with India unable to get a hold in midfield. Bishal Rai went off for the visitors in the 57th minute, being replaced by Yogesh Gurung, while Anil Gurung came on for Nawayug Shresta in the 67th minute.
India asserted their ascendancy in the 68th minute, as Holicharan whipped in a cross from the left that Chhetri controlled well, allowing him a yard of space to open up his body and strike the ball past Nepal custodian, Kiran Chemzong, giving India a 2-1 lead.
History was nearly created minutes later, as Lallianzuala had a shot cleared off the line, thus preventing the trickster from becoming India’s second youngest ever goal scorer. Chhetri, now in the autumn of his career, was replaced soon after, with Jeje coming on in his place in the 70th minute.
Nepal had a chance to equalise minutes later, but Anil Gurung’s effort was smothered by Subrata Paul. India made the visitors pay soon after, as Lallianzuala cut in from the right wing with his left foot, beating his marker and then curling in a sweet left-footed strike into the top corner, thus making him India’s second youngest ever goal scorer. The goal also put the result beyond doubt, as India took a 3-1 lead in the 81st minute.
Koushik Sarkar became another debutant for India, coming on to replace Fernandes. Lallianzuala ensured the spotlight remained on him however, as the 18 year old’s intelligent run was found by a lovely clipped ball from Rowlin Borges, and his composed, looping header gave India a 4-1 lead in the 90th minute.
As the final whistle blew, India’s qualification to the semifinals took second stage, as all eyes were focussed on India’s newest footballing sensation, Lallianzuala Chhangte. Remember the name.