India start Nehru Cup campaign in style, beat Syria 2-1
New Delhi: Dutchman Wim Koevermans` stint as the coach of the Indian football team started on a positive note as Portugal-returned skipper Sunil Chhetri and Anthony Pereira`s strikes propelled the hosts to a 2-1 win over Syria in the Nehru Cup opener on Wednesday.
Chhetri`s neat header found the net just at the stroke of half time to put the defending champions ahead, after rain forced a brief 15-minute suspension at the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium here.
Pereira struck in the 84th minute with a rasping left-footer from the top of the box to put it beyond Syria.
Experienced Clifford Miranda did the spadework for the team`s first goal, fooling Syrian defender Jehad Albour, and Chhetri ensured that the Goan`s accurate cross did not go waste.
It was then the turn of Dempo winger Pereira to show his class as he slotted one past Syrian custodian Ahmed Alsalih after being on the pitch for just 14 minutes.
Alaa Alshbbli reduced the margin with a 90th minute strike but that came a bit too late.
Fresh from his nearly one-month pre-season training stint at Sporting Lisbon, Chhetri once again showed why he is rated as the country`s most dangerous striker, when he flummoxed the Syrian defence by positioning himself at the right place, and at the right time.
One of the surviving members of the 2009 squad, which incidentally beat the same opponents to lift the trophy at the Ambedkar Stadium, Miranda deserves mention for his work on the left side and had it not been for his crucial cross in the added time, India would have had to struggle for full points considering the wet pitch.
Pereira scored after he dribbled past Mohammed Zubaida to unleash a curling shot, which gave Syrian custodian no chance. Lenny Rodrigues was the man who delivered the cross to Pereira.
If the lack of forays into the opposition half were any indication, India adopted a slightly defensive approach after the change of ends, and rightly so probably, as a win in his first match was of utmost importance for Koevermans.
The Syrians did manage to create panic in the Indian camp with their intermittent raids but a combination of some decent defending, wet surface and a bit of luck ensured an Indian victory.
There were a few substitutions, with Mohd. Alreffai being taken off after the break and Hamoud Alhamoud replacing Mardek Mardkian, but those moves did not result in an equaliser for the visitors.
Knowing well that it would take a lot out of the Syrians to make a comeback, Koevermans looked a man at ease in the India dugout.
The Dutchman's decision to replace Sanju Pradhan with Pereira ? India's only substitution -- proved to be a masterstroke as the Dempo player vindicated his coach's move by finding the net.
Coming back to the Syrians, they showed urgency at the start, but India were equal to the task.
There was a scope in the 11th minute but the Syrian attempt sailed over the bar. There were a few similar attempts later in the match but none of them serious enough to trouble the Indians.
Striker Ouday Abduljaffal made an attempt to draw parity on the 65th minute but India custodian Subrata Paul was up for the job and he expectedly made a few important saves to deny the visitors. One of them was the shot he saved off Ali Ghlioum. In between, Nirmal Chhetri made a save after a Syrian player threatened India with his enterprise.
Coming back to the Indians' attack initially, as it often happens with this team, it was Chhetri again who got a sniff of the post as early as in the 11th minute, but his shot, after taking the ball with his back to the post, went wide.