India Under-23's encounter with their Pakistan counterparts on Sunday ended in a 1-0 victory for the home side with Sunil Chhetri scoring the vital goal.
The Indians kicked off in their all Blue kit, with Pakistan in all whites. Both teams headed into this match knowing they needed to prove a point.
India went in with a 4-4-2 with Bengaluru FC duo, Robin Singh and Sunil Chhetri the front two.
In the opening minute itself, Mehmood Khan made what seemed like a clumsy tackle on Mandar Rao Dessai, with the midfielder requiring urgent attention.
Pakistan repeatedly tried to go down the right with Faisal Iqbal looking lively and on one of their forays the low ball had to be cleared for a corner, the first of the game, which was successfully dealt with by India.
The Shaheens were awarded a free-kick for a foul on Muhammed Bilal by Robin Singh, when the striker seemed to upend the defender on his way to goal. This resulted in an ugly spat of words between the two and needed the intervention of the referee.
Pranoy Halder shot from outside the box in the 16th minute but it barely perturbed the keeper as it went wide off the target.
Luck favoured the Indians as Joyner Lourenco had a major lapse in concentration, almost letting Abdul Salam the big Pakistani striker through, though, he too slipped at the vital moment allowing India to regain the situation.
Robin Singh was in the thick of things in the first half, his tussle with the Pakistani players resulted in what seemed like an elbow in the face of Saddam Hussein.
The first meaningful chance fell to India as Singh’s cross from the left fell to Lalrindika Ralte at the near post, whose snapshot from point blank range was kept out acrobatically by Muzammil Hussain in the Pakistani goal.
Singh would later pick up a yellow card for his third offence on Ahsanullah as he tried to retrieve a ball from the defense on the left.
Saddam Hussein, in the 34th minute then wriggled past five Indians, but managed to slice his shot wide.
Three minutes later, a great over the top ball from Narayan Das saw Robin Singh wreck havoc as the target man, and when the Pakistani defense weren’t able to handle it effectively, the ball fell to Chhetri who tried to place it towards the right corner. It was saved, just by the leg, of keeper Hussain.
Pandemonium erupted in the Indian goal as their failure to clear their lines saw Pakistan almost score with Narayan Das making an important goal-line clearance.
On the cusp of half-time, Ralte’s corner to the near post was drifted straight onto the head on Robin Singh whose flick hit the post. Chhetri was on hand to tap the ball in and put India into the lead. However, the match commissioner chose to award the goal to Robin Singh strangely, only to give Chhetri the due credit a few hours later.
Pakistan started the second half stronger as a good cross from Mehmood Khan was skirted out for a corner. Amrinder then had to dive to his right as Pakistan’s skipper Kaleemullah came close again with a powerful header.
Chhetri found an opening down the left and caught Pakistan napping although his toe poke mustered a save from the keeper. Multiple corners followed, which were successfully defended by the visitors.
At the hour mark, Chhetri burst through with pace only to see his left footed thunderbolt smack straight into the upper tier.
Dessai then found room on the edge of the box as he blasted over from a scoring opportunity. Controversy erupted in the 69th e minutas Robin Singh was sent off for a second bookable offence, a paltry one though, as India found themselves a man down with 20 minutes still left to play.
Chhetri was then fouled oclose to the edge of the box as Ralte’s excellent delivery saw a great save from the keeper.
In the 84th minute, Kaleemullah was free down the right with Lourenco just behind him. Instead of passing it to Mansorr Khan who was free inside the box, he went for glory and shot wide.
Pakistan were getting closer as Riaz’ through ball sent Mohsin Ali through and only a last ditch tackle from Lourenco saved the day. The Sporting Clube de Goa defender was in the thick of action again as from the resulting corner he nearly headed into his own net. It hit the crossbar and fell into open territory, kindly enough for India to clear.
Pakistan attacked with full gusto towards the end as a cross from the right by Bilawal Rehman missed everyone in the box. The scoreline remained the same until the end with India the victors.