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India 2-0 Nepal: Chhetri leads Blue Tigers to victory over neighbours

Guwahati : India began a new era under Stephan Constantine as they beat Nepal 2-0 in a 2018 World Cup pre-qualifier match at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Guwahati on Thursday evening. A brace from vice-captain Sunil Chhetri (53', 71') was enough to secure the win for the hosts. The English coach handed debuts to Sandesh Jhingan, Pritam Kotal, Saumik Dey and Eugeneson Lyngdoh while Nepal started with Bimal Gharti in attack with Jumanu Rai being named on the bench. The home team enjoyed the greater share of possession during the opening exchanges but the game was initially starved of any clear cut opportunities. Robin Singh received the ball from Sunil Chhetri in the 11th minute but did not strike it cleanly and it was easily collected by Kiran Chemzong between the sticks. Nepal threatened in the 25th minute when Bharat Khawas danced his way into the box and delivered a precise through ball for Bimal. The youngster almost got there but skipper Subrata Paul beat him to it. Just after the half hour mark, Chhetri and Robin created the game's first real chance. The Indian vice-captain got hold of a loose ball and swiftly played it long for Robin whose shot sailed inches over the bar. 

A couple of minutes later, Eugeneson Lyngdoh was the architect of an even better chance as he lobbed a ball over for Robin once again who beat the offside trap. His shot from the edge of the box could only hit the side-netting though. The Bengaluru attacking duo combined again in the 39th minute when Chhetri exchanged a quick one-two with Robin before laying the ball ahead of his partner in crime. Robin once again took a good shot but it was deflected behind for a corner. The subsequent delivery from Lalrindika Ralte was attacked by Arnab Mondal but his strong header went over the bar, much to agony of the home support. Chhetri received the ball from Robin and dummied his way into the box but Rabin Shrestha pulled off a great last ditch challenge to thwart the danger in the 42nd minute. The best chance however fell to Francis Fernandes two minutes from the break. He received a gem of a through ball from Chhetri and went one-on-one with Chemzong. He took it in his stride well but the keeper pulled off a great save with his legs. At the other end, Jagjit Shrestha wrong footed Sandesh Jhingan in the 44th minute and ran past him but his shot was weak and off target as the teams went into the break goalless. Six minutes into the second period, Robin and Chhetri combined again. 

The veteran's shot from just outside the box was blocked by Kiran Chemzong while Robin couldn't muster a follow-up shot under heavy pressure from two defenders. Two minutes later though, India broke the deadlock and it was Bengaluru FC skipper who produced a bolt from the blue. Chhetri got hold of the ball in midfield and with the goal in his sights, he unleashed a powerful left-footed shot that rocketed into the back of the net to give his side the lead. India appeared to double their advantage in the 63rd minute in what looked like a goal on debut for substitute Jackichand Singh. Lyngdoh's shot was deflected off an Indian player, and Chhetri got hold of it. The assistant raised the flag, but the referee hadn't stopped play. Jackichand then put the ball into the net but the referee finally blew his whistle for offside. Nevertheless, the hosts got their second in the 70th minute with Chhetri coming up with the goods yet again. He drove forward from midfield and thumped in a shot from outside the box. 

Chemzong stretched in vain as India went 2-0 ahead. Subrata Paul then had a bit of work to do in the 78th minute as he saved brilliantly from a Bimal free-kick. India were awarded a penalty when debutant Cavin Lobo weaved his way into the box from the left and was brought down by Sandip Rai in the 80th minute. Chhetri had a golden opportunity to seal his hat-trick but his low shot to the right of the keeper was saved by Chemzong. Jackichand went close to scoring India's third in the 84th minute. His initial shot was blocked but he pulled the trigger again only to see it go agonisingly wide. Robin had one final effort with a minute of normal time remaining when his shot from distance hit the side netting and the game ended 2-0 in India's favour.

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