The game provided perfect testing ground for Stephen Constantine who has moulded this team into a fearsome attacking outfit…

Mumbai Football Arena witnessed its second International friendly in two years’ time. The Indian football fans, though small in number, were vocal throughout the game, not relenting even for a minute while singing their hearts out to patriotic numbers. Constantine had stressed the importance of the game in the pre-match press conference and had also gone all out to thank Nepal for agreeing to play at such a short notice. 

Nepal’s national team coach, Kyoji Gyotoku had no illusions about his team, which was still recovering from the massive earthquake that had hit the nation and said that India was indeed a strong team. Both teams come into this friendly on the back of important Asian Cup qualifiers campaign where India face Kyrgyzstan and Nepal play Yemen.

A lot can be said about the home team that took the field against a very spirited Nepal. The Indian team started with a 4-1-3-2 formation against the visitors and was looking for the killing moment. On the other hand, the Nepal team filled its ranks with youngsters as promised and were looking to try and catch the Indian team on the counter. The Indian team held their fort and put their bodies on the lines to ensure that the Gorkhalis didn’t find their way to Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, who was nothing short of a reinforced steel wall for India.

India was the team with the early chances. Gurpreet launched the ball and directly played it to Narzary, who linked up with Robin Singh and Jackichand to play a well-weighted cross to Robin who headed just wide of the goal. Robin, again, came very close to scoring in the 29th minute of the game when he was pulled into action by a deftly placed pass by Eugenson Lyngdoh but he shot wide to dismay the fans. After a string of missed opportunities by the Indian team in the final third, the fans went into a tizzy singing, “Let’s pretend we scored a goal” and then went into a loud mocking cheer.

Match Highlights International Friendly 2017: India 2-0 Nepal

The main men for Indian team were wingers Holicharan Narzary and Jackichand Singh as well as midfield maestro Eugenson Lyngdoh. The wingers dictated the play for most parts of the game and when Eugenson was substituted on, it added to the existing flare. The visitors, in spite of being dominated for long periods of time, did not give up and Nawayug Shrestha created a very strong chance when he beat the advancing Sandhu to shoot narrowly wide. Rohit Chand also gave his everything to break the play and his strength made India lose possession various times.

As the second half began, Sujal forced Gurpreet into a save when he lashed the ball towards the goal to send the goalkeeper flying to save it. This single save was the turning point for the game as it spurred both the crowd as well as the Indian attack into a tizzy. There was a near miss and a goal line clearance that the Nepal team were forced into, in just a span of two minutes. This followed by a strong shot on goal by Daniel Lalhlimpuia, the young Bengaluru FC striker, shooting the ball like a bazooka at the near post to rattle the young Nepalese goalkeeper, Kiran Kumar Limbu.

Jhingan, then, broke the deadlock by a superb left-footed volley set up by Jeje Lalpekhlua that was impossible to save and made the score 1-0 to give India the much-needed lead. It was a beautiful goal in all aspects and calmed India, who were not able to find their feet against a spirited Nepalese defence. This also calmed the game down considerably with India happy with playing a possession based game and building from the back.

Then in a moment of brilliance, Mohammed Rafique made a beautiful solo run to place the ball in the way of the charging bull, Jeje Lalpekhlua, who finished the move with a powerful shot into the right-hand bottom corner of the goal.

Nepal tried to get back into the game but in vain as the minutes faded and the Indian defence held the fort to see the game through and the Indian team, along with a few attacks, spearheaded by Eugenson Lyngdoh tried to make it a special three.

This game has clearly shown that Stephen Constantine has been able to engrain his philosophy into the national team who has wonderfully gelled together and looks worthy of the 100th rank it has achieved. The game bodes well for both countries, as India play the Kyrgyz Republic on 13th June and Nepal play Yemen in the AFC Asian Cup qualifiers.