India were held to a 1-1 draw by Bangladesh in the former’s opening match of the SAFF Championship 2021, at the National Football Stadium, in Male, Maldives, on Monday, October 4.

Captain Sunil Chhetri had put the Blue Tigers in the lead, before Bangladesh went down to 10 men after Biswanath Ghosh was given his marching order soon after the second half restart. However, Yeasin Arafat scored for Bangladesh to put his side to level terms in the second half.

The Blue Tigers had a strong start to the match, as they got on the attack and troubled the Bangladesh defence from the get-go. Liston Colaco had a lively start to the match, sending a free-kick towards Chhetri, a chance that was fended off by the Bangladesh defence. Soon after, the attacking midfielder jinxed past a couple of defenders on the right, and pinged in his cross, but the defence again managed to get to the end of the cross.

India centre back Chinglensana Singh came out with an early tackle on Md. Matin Miah, who had latched on to a ball by Md. Ibrahim. The decisive tackle helped the Blue Tigers defence avert the danger.

Around the quarter-hour mark, Udanta played a one-two with Subhasish on the left flank, before sending in a cross aimed at captain Chhetri. The latter attempted to control the ball on his chest inside the six-yard box, but cramped for space, he was dispossessed.

Subhasish Bose created a fine chance on the 24th minute, sending in a cross from the left towards Manvir Singh, who duly nodded it towards goal. However, Bangladesh goalkeeper Anisur Rahman managed to grab the ball from close range.

Sunil Chhetri broke the deadlock in the 27th minute, as he smashed a cut-back by Udanta Singh from the right, and sent it crashing into the back of the Bangladesh net. This was the talismanic striker’s 76th goal in International Football.

The referee blew his whistle on the 30th minute for the water break, and Bangladesh soon came out all guns blazing after recharging their batteries. Captain Jamal Bhuyan sent a delectable free-kick across the face of the Indian goal, but the ball evaded one and all.

India keeper Gurpreet was called into action for the first time in the match in the 39th minute, when Md Saad Uddin broke through the lines and played Rakib Hossain through on goal. The latter turned in and unleashed a shot that was palmed away by Gurpreet.

The onslaught did not last too long. Anirudh Thapa and Sunil Chhetri soon created an opportunity. The former picked out his captain with his free-kick, as Chhetri cushioned his header into Rahul Bheke’s path. However, the defender’s shot went wide, as the referee blew the half-time whistle soon after.

After the change of ends, India head coach Igor Stimac brought on Brandon Fernandes in place of Anirudh Thapa. Sunil Chhetri remained alert even when not in possession, and nearly scored when he dispossessed Tariq Kazi on the 18-yard mark, and barged into the Bangladesh box. However, he soon ran out of real estate, as the ball went out of play.

Liston Colaco attempted a similar manoeuvre on Biswanath Ghosh this time, and was brought down with just the goalkeeper to beat. The Bangladesh defender was shown the red card for his efforts.

Manvir Singh created one of the best second-half chances for India on the hour mark, as he barged into the box and unleashed a powerful shot. While Anisur Rahman did save the shot, the rebound fell to Chhetri, who laid it off for Udanta, whose shot was eventually blocked.

Stimac made a few more changes in the second half, as youngster Rahim Ali soon replaced Udanta Singh, while Lalengmawia replaced Liston Colaco.

With a little over 15 minutes left, Yeasin Arafat levelled the score for Bangladesh, heading a Jamal Bhuyan corner into the Indian goal.

India pushed forward, looking for the winner, and Chhetri created another opportunity with five minutes of regulation time left. The India skipper chested the ball down in the Bangladeshi penalty area, wrong-footed a defender and laid it off for Manvir. However, the latter’s shot was headed clear off the line.

With the clock running down, Bangladesh managed to hold on to the point, as the referee soon brought an end to the match after four minutes of injury time.

Featured photo : AIFF