New Delhi: An inconsistent India lacked the cutting edge as they were held to a 1-1 draw by a spirited Afghanistan in their opening match of the SAFF Football Championship on Saturday.
Star striker Sunil Chhetri found the net on his return from Glasgow Rangers but fluffed a sitter in the second half as India`s hopes of kicking off their campaign with a win went up in smoke.
Balal Arezo stunned the hosts when he fired in a volley from inside the box just four minutes into the match, before Chhetri cancelled out the lead six minutes later with a clean header off a Steven Dias corner.
Afghanistan thereafter, led by the striking duo of Arezo and Sanjar Ahmadi, troubled the Indians with their sporadic raids. Both were aided by wingers Waheed Ahmad and Mohammad Esrafi dow the flanks.
India, on the other hand, were found wanting when it came to wing-play against the minnows.
The normally accurate Dias did manage to deliver some useful crosses from the right but his partner on the left, Clifford Miranda`s performance was below par and that did hurt the hosts, raked 162nd in the world as against Aghanistan`s 178th, the lowest in the eight-nation tournament.
It was no surprise when Afghanistan went ahead, exposing the chinks in India`s armour. Miranda was nowhere to be seen as Arezo, running down the left flank, picked up a loose ball from the experienced Mahesh Gawli to slot home past Indian custodian Karanjit Singh.
There was an opening for India soon after but Chhetri`s attempt was too feeble to trouble the visitors. But the Delhi footballer, back from a brief stint at Scottish Giants Glasgow Rangers along with his strike partner Jeje Lalpekhula, did not fumble the second time as he leaped to head one from the near post.