Three matches into the Nehru Cup,the rains finally relented and a game was finally played on a pitch that did not resemble a soaked rag. India,mainly on the back of a neat second half display,ran out 3-0 winners against Maldives in what was one of the more watchable displays of the tournament so far.
Most of coach Wim Koevermans’ ideas came off Sunil Chhetri,starting off as the lone striker,grabbed a brace; the full-backs overlapped frequently and effectively,with Syed Rahim Nabi scoring and setting up a goal; the substitutions proved effective as Robin Singh linked up well with Chhetri and Anthony Perrera added spice to the mid-field. Goals arrived at propitious times the opener late in the first half and the next early in the second,making it easier for the coach to try things out and the defense came through with a clean sheet to boot. Despite a few nervy moments at the back,and even if the scoreline was a bit harsh on Maldives,India was largely in control.
And if India coasted to the win,it all started with a piece of luck. The first half saw few chances,and the better ones fell to Maldives the dangerous Ashfaq Ali missed at least one clear chance. The deadlock was eventually broken when Nabi,on one of his many runs down the left,crossed the ball into the Maldives box. After a deflection off a defender at the edge of the box,the referee immediately pointed to the spot. Replays looked inconclusive,but on-field reactions suggested India caught a break. Chhetri stepped up and slotted home on the stroke of half-time.
All three games so far in the tournament have seen both sides score,and Koevermans knew there was work to be done yet. He pulled off midfielder Sanju Pradhan to pair Robin Singh with Chhetri,the side reverting to a more traditional 4-4-2. With the midfield now not as crowded as before,the full backs utilised the space better and in Robin Singh had another target to aim for.
There were knock-on effects too. The six-foot-one debutant attracted a lot of attention in the box,and some lax defending left Nabi unmarked during a 53rd minute corner. The left-back duly nodded in and India doubled their lead.
With 20 minutes left,Chhetri scored his second,heading in an inch-perfect cross from the wing,this time from Francis Fernandes,who had moved out from his position behind Chhetri to the right during the reshuffle. The third goal put the game well and truly beyond Malives,but the side kept creating chances,and had a strong shout for a penalty of their own. Though their efforts did not translate into goals,it made for an engaging half of football.