Kathmandu: Defending champions India made a disastrous start to their AFC Challenge Cup football tournament as they lost 0-2 to Tajikistan in their opening league match on Friday.
After a barren but evenly contested first half, the Indians let in two goals after the hour mark with Akhtam Khamrakulov (60th minute) and Nuriddin Davronov (66th) finding the target for Tajikistan in the Group B match at Dasarath Deb Stadium.
Incidentally, India hammered Tajikistan 4-1 in the last edition of the AFC Challenge Cup.
India, who won the 2008 edition of the tournament at home, are now left with a huge task of winning both their remaining matches -- against Philippines (March 11) and North Korea (March 13) -- if they want to make sure that they qualify for the semifinals.
The winners of the AFC Challenge Cup will automatically qualify for the 2015 Asian Cup in Australia.
The first half saw both sides having almost equal ball possession and shots at goal with India relying on quick counter attacks and goalkeeper Karanjit Singh producing some fine saves.
But, after the changeover, the Indian midfield were found wanting and Tajikistan made a series of attacks to put Savio Medeira`s boys under pressure.
At the hour mark, a cross from the left deflected off Syed Rahim Nabi and a lurking Khamroqulov fired in to give his side the lead.
Six minutes later, Tajikistan doubled the lead with Nuruddin Davronov finding the target.
India made some last-ditched efforts with Savio Medeira bringing in fresh legs.
Jewel Raja came in place of off-colour Anthony Pereira in the 69th minute while Joaquim Abranches replaced out-of-sorts Sushil Kumar Singh in the 81st minute but that did not make much of the difference as India failed to create enough scoring chances.
Abranches made an impact as soon as he came into the field. In the 83rd minute, he unleashed a fierce right-footer which Tajikistan goalkeeper Alisher Tuychiev palmed away for a corner.
Indian captain Sunil Chhetri made some good moves but failed to get a clear shot on target at the Tajikistan goal in the entire match.
In another Group B match, North Korea beat Philippines 2-0 at Halchowk Stadium.