India remained afloat in the race to reach the SAFF Championship final with a nervy 1-0 win over Nepal in Maldives on Sunday.
Skipper Sunil Chhetri, who missed an open goal in the opening half, scored the winner in the 82nd minute when he turned in a Farukh Choudhary header into the net. Chhetri levelled alongside Brazilian legend Pele with 77 international strikes as India registered its first win of the tournament.
Igor Stimac’s men now have five points from three matches and have moved into third in the table behind second-placed Nepal on six. India must now win in its final round robin game to ensure progression into the final.
Stimac made five changes to his XI from the goalless draw against Sri Lanka with Brandon Fernandes and Lalengmawia Apuia making their first start of the tournament. Brandon was integral in India’s improved display with the midfielder playing key passes into the attacking third from the midfield.
Chhetri missed a huge opportunity to open the scoring in the 34th minute when he was teed up by Suresh Singh but the veteran striker poked it wide of the goal.
But he redeemed himself with the match-winner when he got ahead of his marker inside the six-yard area to hook in a left-footed shot into the corner of the net.
After the match, the 37-year-old Chhetri said, “We have been very poor in front of goal. At least we got a three points today. We have improved a lot today with the pressing up front and got good chances. We are alive in the tournament so that’s good.”