By Soubhik Ray
The Afghan boys meant business right from the start as they took the lead within five minutes into the game. Striker Balal Arezo made a quick stride into the box and took the lead after some sloppy work from Indian defender Mahesh Gawli.
Five times SAFF Champions, India made amends after a nervy start and made a comeback into the game. Stephen Dias put India back into the attack as the 27-year old Churchill midfielder set up an assist for Sunil Chhetri, which the Mohun Bagan striker netted with ease to secure an equalizer in the 10th minute.
After his return from trials with Scottish giants Glasgow Rangers, India’s ace striker Chhetri netted his 27th goal in Indian colours to secure the Man of the Match award.
Afghanistan came into the match as the underdogs but the Pathans displayed ample grit and flair on the pitch. 46 minutes into play, Afganistan skipper Haroon Fakhruddin bulldozed his way through the Indian defence and set up striker Balal Arezo but the 22-year old goalscorer failed to relive his heroics and found keeper Karanjit Singh.
In the second-half, Dempo’s ace midfielder Clifford Miranda failed to impress and lacked the heroics displayed in his club colors. The 29-year old was found to be sluggish in his work as he failed to net a cross from the left wing from Chhetri, as Afghanistan defender Moqadar Faizullah cleared the ball.
India missed their last chances of starting their SAFF campaign with a win as an 85th minute strike from Jeje Lalpekhula was met with a brilliant save from the Afganistan keeper. The 30-year old Afghan denied a superb strike from the Mizoram striker after being set-up by Chhetri.
After some sloppy work throughout the game, the defending champions were saved from a last minute blush as Indian keeper Karanjit Singh ensured a point for the team. The Salgaocar custodian pulled off a brilliant save after Mohammed Esrafil set up a power strike for Afghan striker Sanjar Ahmadi in the 91st minute.
India coach Savio Medeira was content with a point against the 178th ranked Afghanistan team. Medeira said, "We’re satisfied with one point from the game. The boys lived up to my expectations with some gritty play.” The India boss was in praise of his ace striker Sunil Chhetri, “The Afghanistan team had taller and physically stronger defenders but Sunil displayed some brilliant tactics to deceive them."
Medeira refused to be let down by a draw and was optimistic in his approach, "We have to concentrate on the upcoming match, rather than defending the title. We need to prepare for the remaining two matches and not ponder on the draw."
By Soubhik Ray