Injury-time goal gave India 2-1 win over Taipei
Yangon: India struck the winner in the injury time through striker Robin Singh as they began their AFC Challenge Cup Qualifiers campaign with a 2-1 victory over Chinese Taipei here on Saturday.
Robin, who came in as late substitute for Jewel Raja Shaikh, scored the winning goal in the 91st minute after Chinese Taipei had cancelled out the Indian lead in the 54th minute through Lee Tai Lin.
Jewel Raja had given India the lead in the 40th minute of an assist from captain Sunil Chhetri at the Youth Training Centre ground.
Robin, who took the field in the 82nd minute, headed in the winner by connecting a fine cross from the right by midfielder Syed Rahim Nabi.
India began the match in a 4-5-1 formation, with goalkeeper Subrata Paul, defenders Nirmal Chettri and Gurjinder Kumar and midfielder Jewel Raja making in the starting line-up. In fact, it was the debut international match for Gurjinder.
Coach Wim Koevermans left out goalkeeper Sandip Nandy, Denzil Franco and Alwyn George from the starting line-up in the friendly against Palestine in Pune early last month which India had lost 2-4.
India started as the better of the two teams and kept the ball, playing short, probing passes.
It was, however, the Chinese Taipei who had the first chance of the game in the 13th minute when they got a free kick from around 25 yards. India goalkeeper Paul had to dive to the full to pull off a stunning save of the shot of midfielder Su De Cai.
Soon after, India retaliated and midfielder Mehtab Hossain was in the clear with only the opposition goalkeeper to beat but he failed to put the ball past him.
India earned five corners in the opening half an hour and Gurjinder came agonisingly close to heading one in only to miss the mark by a whisker.
After a series of raids at the rival citadel, India surged ahead in the 40th minute. Jewel Raja, who was playing with one-twos with Chhetri with much aplomb, slipped past two rival defenders, trapped Chhetri`s through pass and sent it past the rival goalkeeper Lun Kun Chi.
Chinese Taipei regrouped after change of ends and cancelled out India`s half time 1-0 lead in the 54th minute with Lee Tai Lin heading in Su De Cai`s corner. The goal pushed the Indians on the backfoot and all of a sudden, Chinese Taipei, for a brief period, had more possession.
Nabi`s entry in the 68th minute in place of Francis Fernandes gave the renewed vigour with the nippy midfielder making his usual run-downs at the flanks before releasing teasing crosses,
Koevermans also brought in Robin in place of Jewel Raja in the 82nd minute and India were attacking down the middle and the two flanks. But the elusive goal was not coming and game looked like heading for a draw.
It was, however, to be a happy result for India as their wait for the winner ended in the first minute of injury time when Robin leaped high to head in Nabi`s centre from the right.
"We deserve to win. We were the better side," Koevermans said at the post-match press conference.
Koevermans said that his side achieved the objective of making a winning start in the tournament.
"We scored two excellent goals -- both towards the end of both halves. We could have scored more. It was the most important match in the tournament for us. We needed to begin with a win and we have achieved our purpose," he said.
"The threat of counter-attacks were always there. But if you look back, we had more opportunities all throughout," he added.
"It was a fight against the clock to score our second goal and we eventually did it in the injury time. Both of our substitutes -- Nabi and Robin -- were involved in the goal and that's a very positive sign."
Asked if India can beat hosts Myanmar in the tournament, Koevermans said, "India are taking one match at a time. We play Guam next and we are concentrating on them at the moment.
"But at the same time, I'm not happy in conceding off a set-piece," he said.
India play their second match against Guam on March 4.
India: Subrata Paul, Nirmal Chettri, Gouramangi Singh, Raju Gaikwad, Gurjinder Kumar, Francis Fernandes (Syed Rahim Nabi - 68th minute), Lenny Rodrigues, Mehtab Hossain, Clifford Miranda, Jewel Raja Shaikh (Robin Singh - 82nd), Sunil Chhetri (captain).