After talismanic skipper Sunil Chhetri’s 76th international goal, India allowed a 10-man Bangladesh to score, resulting in a 1-1 draw in their SAFF Championship opener in Male on Monday.
In his 121st appearance for India, Chhetri, 37, scored in the 27th minute, putting him just one goal behind legendary Brazilian Pele (77 goals from 92 matches). He is now fourth among active footballers in terms of goals scored, after Cristiano Ronaldo (111), Lionel Messi (79), and Iraq’s Ali Mabkhout (77).
India was the better team in the first half, and despite losing possession frequently, they appeared to be cruising. They also enjoyed a numerical advantage after Bangladeshi player Biswanath Ghosh was sent off for a foul on Liston Colaco in the 54th minute.
However, Igor Stimac’s men were unable to halt the Bangladeshis’ quick counter-attacking and lost a goal in the 74th minute, resulting in a draw, much to the Indian camp’s dismay. Bangladesh has always been a tough opponent for India, who required a late equalizer in Kolkata to draw the first leg of the 2022 World Cup qualifiers before winning 2-0 in the second leg.
India started the game offensively, but a quick counter-attack from Bangladesh almost caught them off guard, as central defender Chinglensana Singh made a critical clearing after Ibrahim whipped in a low cross for Motin Mia.
Bangladesh got a few corners as well, but India took control after that, with Udanta Singh outwitting his marker and sending crosses from the right side after missing two Nepal friendly.
In the 24th minute, Manvir Singh had a poor header from one of these crosses, but Chhetri was not the one who missed the other three minutes later. Udanta was freed on the right side by Pritam Kotal, who cut back the ball from near the touchline and delivered a perfectly-placed pass for Chhetri to score into the roof of the goal.
Liston Colaco, who had a strong game, then attempted a goal against Bangladesh in the 36th minute but was unsuccessful. Chhetri made another powerful left-footed strike three minutes later, but goalkeeper Anisur Rahman made a diving save.
India escaped a scare in the 40th minute, this time from a Bangladeshi counter-attack, but goalie Gurpreet Singh Sandhu saved Biplo Ahmed’s shot with a diving save to preserve India’s advantage intact.
On the resumption, Stimac replaced Anirudh Thapa in the middle of the park with Brandon Fernandes, and India enjoyed a numerical advantage as Biswanath Ghosh was sent off for bringing down Colaco with only the goalie in front in the 54th minute.
Bangladesh had an opportunity to equalize three minutes earlier, but Rakib Hossain blasted wide after finding himself open inside the Indian area. In the 61st minute, Bangladesh goalkeeper Rahman produced a double save, blocking efforts from Manvir and Udanta.
Just after the hour mark, Stimac replaced Colaco with Lalengmawia and Udanta with Rahim Ali, but the Bangladeshis, who were playing under a new coach after the 2022 World Cup qualifiers, equalized in the 74th minute when Yasir Arafat scored a diving header from a swinging corner kick into the Indian goal. On Thursday, India takes on Sri Lanka in their second round-robin league encounter.