SAFF Cup: India beat Pakistan to start title defence

Kathmandu, Sep 1 (IANS) India started their defence in the 2013 SAFF Championship football with a hard-earned victory over arch-rivals Pakistan at the Dasrath Stadium here Sunday.

The solitary goal win earned India three points and they next play Bangladesh at the same venue Tuesday.

India took the lead in the 14th minute. Nirmal Chhetri tried to find an onrushing Sunil Chhetri between the two rival central defenders on the top of the rival goal area. In a desperate attempt to keep Chhetri off, Pakistan captain Samar Ishaq tried to clear the ball but his clearance entered his own net (1-0).

Francis Fernandes was a livewire on the right. He tormented Kamran Khan whenever he had him in a one-to-one situation, to the extent that Khan had to be replaced in the 33th minute itself.

Fernandes was always able to keep himself free from his marker. And once Mehtab Hossain and Lenny Rodrigues found him, he wreaked havoc. He timed his runs to perfection, went round Khan and essayed crosses behind the rival defence.

India started off in a flash, pressed hard and were rewarded with four corner kicks in the first four minutes itself. But Pakistan regrouped after Saddam Hussain replaced Khan but the Indian defence stood tall.

Immediately after resumption, Jeje Lalpekhlua barged in from nowhere trying to head in a Mehtab free-kick down the right but it went inches wide. Another header sailed over agonisingly in the 62nd minute - this time Gouramangi Singh staying unlucky.

The next minute, Chhetri and Jeje combined but Pakistan averted the danger. And then off the next attack, Chhetri averted Zesh Rehman but his effort was thwarted by Pakistan custodian Yousaf Ejaz Butt.

Chhetri could have sealed the fate in the 75th minute. He snatched the ball from the centre-line, played a one-two with Hossain and found himself all in the clear. But his left footed placement went wide.

Chhetri perhaps wasn't destined to score because in the 80th minute, he found himself again in the clear inside the Pakistan penalty box but this time too his placement just went wide.

The fate stayed the same off the next Indian attack -- this time, too, Chhetri's powerful shot missing by a whisker. His wait to overhaul IM Vijayan as India's second-ever highest goal scorer continues.

In the 85th minute, another of Fernandes' shot from inside the box narrowly missed the mark. But all of that didn't matter.

India: Subrata Paul; Nirmal Chettri, Gouramangi Singh, Arnab Mondal, Mohanraj Nallappan (Syed Rahim Nabi - 63rd); Francis Fernandes, Lenny Rodrigues, Mehtab Hossain, Jeje Lalpekhlua, Allwyn George (Jewel Raja Shaikh - 46th), Sunil Chhetri (Captain).