By Derek Michael
A second-half strike from Sandip Rai ensured that Graham Roberts' charges eked out a 1-1 draw against 2008 champions Maldives in a Group B clash at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi.
Rai's 51st minute goal cancelled out a stunning first-half strike from Maldives captain and Man of the Match Ali Ashfaq.
From the off, a young Nepalese team kept the Maldives on the backfoot, with the likes of former Shillong Lajong star Anil Gurung and HAL SC's Rohit Chand constantly testing the Maldives defence.
It was all Nepal in the game's opening period, and in the 22nd minute, after being set-up by Rabin Shrestha, former Shillong striker Gurung's shot was smartly saved by Maldives keeper Imran Mohammed.
Three minutes before the break, Asfaq's attempt from outside the penalty box was cleared off the line by Chand.
In the second half, Nepal picked up where they left off in the first period and were rewarded for their efforts when Rai headed home the equaliser six minutes after the restart.
In the post-match press conference, Nepal coach Graham Roberts was clearly delighted with his team's performance, adding that the Maldives team had been lucky to escape with a point.
"I am very delighted with what my boys have done today. Though, we went a goal down at the wrong time, the team was confident of coming back into the match. The Maldives team is lucky to have walked away with a point. They were shown that they are very average," he said.
Nepal captain Sagar Thapa echoed his coach's opinion, saying: "We were confident of beating Maldives, but we were really unlucky. But we are confident of doing really good in this tournament and intend to go all out with our performances."
The draw left Maldives coach Istvan Urbanyi reflecting on what could have been and looking forward to repairing some of the damage.
"I expected my team to perform better, but Nepal were obviously better than us," he said.
"There are still two more (group) games and we would like to assert our dominance in the next match against Bangladesh," Urbanyi added.