Second half substitute Harpreet Singh scored a brace to secure a 2-2 draw for India U-16 against hosts Nepal in the AFC U-16 qualifier match at the Halchowk Stadium in Kathmandu today.
Vikram Pratap captained the Bibiano Fernandes-led side and Bekey Oram partnered him in attack up front. Lalbiakhlua started in goal, with the likes of Thoiba Singh and Gurkeerat Singh shielding him in defence.
The match started in lacklustre fashion, with plenty of whistling action for the Sri Lankan referee Lakmal to award set pieces for both sides. None of them came to fruition although, in the 24th minute of the game, Thoiba Singh sent his header narrowly wide of the target from a Bekey corner.
Nepal's Sanjib Aryal came off due to an injury with 10 minutes to go in the first half but the substitution did not seem to affect the hosts at all. Despite India's trouble on both sides of the field, both sides were goalless at halftime.
India received plenty of chances to break the deadlock after the restart but it was Nepal who put the ball into the net through Birjesh Chaudhary in the 76th minute. With the young India Colts staring at a defeat, Coach Fernandes brought on Harpreet Singh in place of Lalchhanhima Sailo in the 78th minute and he made an instant impact.
The super sub notched two goals (83', 85') in as many minutes to give India a 2-1 lead over the hosts. With two minutes to go before the end of the regular ninety minutes, it was Birjesh Chaudhary's turn to complete his brace to bring the hosts level.
With this 2-2 draw, India now stand second in the table behind Iraq, who registered a comprehensive 4-0 win over Palestine earlier today.
India will face the group-toppers Iraq in their final match of the group at the same venue on September 24, 2017. Ten group winners and five (six, if next year's AFC U-16 championship hosts Malaysia win their group) best runners-up across all groups will qualify for the finals.
India U-16 starting XI: Lalbiakhlua Jongte (GK), Harpreet Singh, Moirangthem Thoiba Singh, Gurkirat Singh, Samir Kerketta, Lalchhanhima Sailo, Ricky John Shabong, Givson Singh Moirangthem, Bekey Oram, Ravi Bahadur Rana, Vikram Pratap (C)