AFC U-16: One save after another, Niraj Kumar keeps India's hopes alive

India's attack folded but the defence and the goalkeeper put up a fight to earn a draw...

With a goalless draw against Iran on Monday, India are tied at the top of Group C with four points from their first two games at the AFC U-16 Championship in Malaysia. 

The result against Iran, who were runners-up in the last edition of the tournament, is a huge confidence-booster for the young Indian colts. Indonesia and Vietnam played out a 1-1 draw in the other Group C game of the day making the equation simpler for India on the final matchday. 

The match not only helped India test their defensive resolve against one of the tournament favourites but it has now placed India in an advantageous position. A draw in their third match against Indonesia will seal progression into the next round. 

Niraj AFC U16 India

Unlike their first game against Vietnam, India had to concede possession to their opponents early on in the game. Iran took control soon after kick-off and were able to test Indian goalkeeper Niraj Kumar more than once. 

The match called for composure at the back as Indian defence was handed a stern test by the opposition. Although one of their shots struck the post in the first half, Ozone FC's Niraj Kumar was kept busy in goal throughout the game and he was up to the task.

Iran took the game to India. The Indian colts did have their moments at the other end but they found it difficult to create clear-cut opportunities. The young colts were camped inside their own half for the majority of the match. It must be pointed that they did have chances of their own especially in the final 10 minutes where India's profligacy was on display. They missed at least three opportunities to take the lead and thereby seal their progress into the next round.

India Iran AFC U-16 U16

Niraj Kumar, who was keeping India in the game with one save after another, pulled off a blinder in the second half. The referee pointed to the spot to award a spot-kick to Iran after Bikash was deemed to have fouled Aria Barzegar inside the box in the 75th minute.

It was an ambiguous decision by the referee but Niraj was once again up to the challenge. The goalkeeper guessed the direction right and kept India in the game with a reflex save, one of many he had to make on the day. 

"India did not play the beautiful game. If we scored the first goal early, things would have been different," said Iran head coach Abbas Chamanian after the match. The reality is that India were on the backfoot and could not execute attacking football as they did in the first match. But this was a different opposition and Bibiano Fernandes' boys executed a different gameplan accordingly.

At the end of the day, a draw is a good result for India and that is what they have achieved.