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India concede late goal as St. Kitts and Nevis earn credible draw

Written by: Sabin Castelino

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Jackichand Singh's first half goal was was canceled out by Tahir Hanley's late strike...

India and St. Kitts and Nevis played out a 1-1 draw in a virtual Final in the Tri-Nations Series in front of a sparse but enthusiastic crowd at the Mumbai Football Arena in Mumbai earlier this evening.

The match started on a speedy note and enthralled the audience. India looked to build on their form in order to be ready for the AFC Asian Cup qualifiers against Macau. St. Kitts on the other hand wanted nothing but a win after having travelled across oceans to land in India.

St. Kitts and Nevis were the ones who initiated the attack and in the first minute came close in a move that later dissipated as India looked to take control. Jackichand Singh seemed to be running for his life, as he charged down the right flank with a flair and tenacity and nutmegging a Caribbean player on the way to make a beautiful cross in to the box but nothing came off this wonderful move.

India stuck to their tried and tested formation 4-4-2 just like always and Stephen Constantine once again looking to give his first choice starting 11 match-time ahead of the qualifiers against Macau. Subrata Paul stood tall between the sticks with Anas and Jhingan manning the central defense. Pritam Kotal and Narayan Das on the flanks played full backs and took every opportunity to overlap and attack along with Jackichand Singh and Haklicharan Nazary. The midfield duo of Eugeneson and Borges looked as settled as ever and Lyngdoh looked stronger than the previous match. The striking duo of Balwant Singh and Jeje looked like a better bet as Constatntine looked to out-run the Caribbean speedsters.

Passy the St. Kitts and Nevis Coach was true to his words when he said that his team will look to give India a run for their money as they dominated in the midfield for long periods of time in the first half.  St. Kitts and Nevis played a 3-5-2 with a diamond in the centre looking to press the Indian midfield to the point of breaking. But the Blue Tigers midfield held out with Strong support coming in from the defense and did try to attack on the break. But they met their stubborn nemesis, wearing a skull-cap, with good positional sense and great reflexes, in the Caribbean Petr Cech, Jeffers Jamal pulling off one great save after another.

Watch highlights as India draw against St. Kitts and Nevis

The Caribbean attack looked to exploit every chance they got and tried to put India on the back foot when Mitchum Yohannes came very close to scoring forcing a save from the Indian Spider man Subrata Paul. This initiated a counter attack on which India won a free kick. The resulting move was a well-crafted and practiced piece which led to a strong shot on target in 26th minute resulting into Narayan Das latching on to the ball but a wondrous save from nowhere by Jefferson Jamal kept the ball out of the goal.

Borges then started a move with a sensational back heel and passed the ball to Jackichand who played it to Kotal as Jackichand made a run towards goal. Kotal than passed it to Borges who crossed the ball in for Jackichand to rise head and shoulders above the rest in order to head the ball in for a spectacular goal creating a loud roar throughout the stadium. Jackichand has proven time and again why he is Stephen’s first choice right winger for India.

Balwant Singh was on song in the first half as he looked to consolidate his place in the starting 11 and was justifiably called up by after “he ran himself in to the ground”, according Stephen Constantine. He looked more adept on the ball and in making himself available to the midfield and looked spectacular in the striker’s role. Robin Singh replaced him at half time as Constantine chose to use a battering ram on the Caribbean defense.

Robin’s introduction sparked something in the Indian side who increased their tempo and were more direct as opposed to the possession based play in the first half. Pritam Kotal’s amazing run in the 47th minute where he linked up brilliantly with Robin just to shoot wide was an example of Robin’s impact. Singh also came very close to scoring as he charged down the left flank only to be brilliantly blocked by Jeffers.

India’s attack dominated the opening 25 minutes of the second half giving very little room for St. Kitts and Nevis players who barely attacked and the possession they had was often wasted by wayward long tries. As expected Stephen decided to shut the gaps in the 60th minute, in midfield by replacing Eugenson with Rafique and adding a spark in attack in the form of debutant Nikhil Poojary who replaced a tired Jackichand after Jacki had run his heart out and also scored the goal that was the difference between the two sides.

Also read Resilient India make it 9 wins in a row with triumph over Mauritius

The Caribbean side also looked to bolster the attack with multiple substitutions but nothing came together for them as the match progressed and India looked to finish it off. Nikhil Poojary showed amazing positional awareness as he linked well with the Indian midfield dictator, Rowlin Borges. But St. Kitts and Nevis had different plans as from the 70th minute they pressed harder and won two corners as they forced Subrata into making two over-head saves. The second corner was the disaster for the defence which momentarily silenced the crowd as Amory Gvaun broke Indian hearts and scored the equalizer.

The crowd recuperated quickly and sang and shouted at the top of their voices which spurred the Indian attack on as India looked to regain the lead. St. Kitts and Nevis didn’t die down as they kept attacking looking to end India’s fairy tale run in the international circuit. A wonderful move was then initiated by Nikhil Poojary which placed the ball in Jeje’s feet who laid it on to Rafique who simply couldn’t control the ball as his shot couldn’t hit the barn door.

Anirudh Thapa was then handed his international debut replacing Rowlin Borges and immediately added a ton of pace to the attack. His incisive runs invigorated the whole team who had fallen damp after the equalizer. His wonderful ball to Robin Singh in the 84th minute enabled Singh to release Poojary who expertly took the ball into the final third but couldn’t convert the chance only to get a corner which was bundled away. Manvir was then introduced to add more teeth to the attack.

Poojary and Manvir linked well but the latter’s finishing was questionable at best as lack of experience was plenty visible. India had plenty more opportunities in the added time as they looked to keep their winning streak alive. But nothing materialized and India ended the match as a draw taking home the Tri-nations trophy with one win and one draw.

It was a good all rounded friendly and lot to think for Constantine heading in to the qualifiers in the first week of September.

 

Published: Fri Aug 25, 2017 12:23 AM IST

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