SAFF Championship: Sunil Chhetri’s late strike against Nepal keeps India’s hopes alive

The Indian football team now has to win its last match against the Maldives to make the final. If India draw, they will hope that Nepal lose to Bangladesh.

By Rahul Venkat
Picture by AIFF

Captain Sunil Chhetri’s 82nd-minute goal took the Indian football team to a 1-0 victory over Nepal in the SAFF Championship 2021 at the National Football Stadium in Male, the Maldives on Sunday.

This was India’s first win of the tournament after draws against Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in their first two matches.

India are now third in the table with five points in three games, with Maldives and Nepal both ahead of them with six points. The top two at the end of a round-robin stage go through to the final.

The Indian football team started with two strikers in Sunil Chhetri and Manvir Singh with Brandon Fernandes providing pace and creativity from the wings.

Nepal, though, were compact in defence and set up in a low block, planning to hit India on the counter-attack.

India, ranked 107th in the world, more than 60 places above Nepal, struggled to find any gaps and were frustrated for much of the first half.

India’s best chance of the first half came in the 34th minute as Suresh Singh put in a low cross from the right, but skipper Chhetri put the ball wide.

In the second half, Manvir Singh almost put India ahead in the 57th minute but Nepal goalkeeper Kiran got down well to parry his header. Manager Igor Stimac then opted for more pace from the wings, introducing Anirudh Thapa and Udanta Singh in place of Manvir and Suresh Singh.

Youngsters Liston Colaco and Farukh Choudhary also came on soon but India struggled to create much until the 82nd minute.

Brandon Fernandes floated a ball into the box and Farukh Choudhary was on hand to divert it into the six-yard box, and Sunil Chhetri scored an instinctive goal.

Nepal tried their best to put more bodies in attack and had two chances to equalise but both shots went wide, giving India a crucial win.

The Indian football team will now face the Maldives in their final match on Wednesday. If they win, India will be through to the final and if they draw, India will have to hope that Nepal loses to Bangladesh.

If India lose their match against the Maldives, they cannot progress to the final.