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India down Rwanda in AAG football opener
October 22, 2003 17:30 IST
Last Updated: October 22, 2003 20:11 IST
India began their campaign in the Afro-Asian Games football tournament on a winning note, outplaying Rwanda 3-1 at the Lal Bahadur Shastri Stadium in Hyderabad on Wednesday evening.
Veteran striker I M Vijayan put the hosts ahead in the 12th minute while defender Muttath Suresh increased the margin nine minutes after half-time.
Substitute Asim Biswas put the issue beyond doubt in the 79th minute.
For the Rwandan, who are fielding a junior squad, Balinda Aziz scored the consolation goal in the 61st minute.
Playing on a water-logged turf, the Indians capitalised on the absence of eight star players of the Rwandan team that qualified for the 2004 African Cup of Nations and dominated the proceedings.
The Rwandans, mostly comprising under-20 players drawn from local clubs, did try their best to score, but the Indian defence put up a sterling performance.
Earlier, much to the relief of the organisers and the sparse crowd, the sun shone for the first time since yesterday as the players trooped on to the wet ground, which was declared fit for play just hours before the start.
Vijayan, who had announced earlier this week he would retire from international soccer at the end of these Games, had the privilege of scoring the first goal of the Games, finding the target with a right-footer following a cross from Tomba Singh.
Though the ground was declared fit for play at around 1 p.m., players had difficulty controlling the ball which got logged in the slush several times.
India skipper Baichung Bhutia did not get much opportunity throughout the 90 minutes and hardly had possession of ball as the Rwandans marked him well. But Tomba Singh and Renedy Singh on either flank did a wonderful job.
The defence was well-manned by Satish Bharti, who came up with several smart clearances. Goalkeeper Sangram Mukerjee also held his nerve at crucial times.
Chief coach Stephen Constantine described the victory a good one to start with, but said, "We should not be carried away."
In the post-match briefing, both Constantine and his Rwandan counterpart, Dujkovic Ratomir, said the conditions were tough and it did not help football.
The Indian coach said though Bhutia played well, others got the chances because he was tightly marked.
Ratomir said his team is not used to playing in such conditions, but gave full credit to the Indians saying they played really well.
As expected, India did not field star midfielder Jo Paul Ancheri in the first eleven and even left out Asim Biswas, who came in well into the second half.
India took some time to settle down as the Rwandans made some quick forays and had a few close shots at goal in the first 10 minutes with Karekezi Oliver leading the Rwandan frontline along with Iraguha Jimmy and Habyarimana Jean Paul.
The second goal for the hosts came soon after the break, when Suresh headed in a superb curving right-footer by Renedy Singh following a corner kick.
Rwanda hit back, finding the target just three minutes later when Jimmy volleyed in from the right and Aziz made no mitake to reduce India's lead to 1-2.
Both the teams made a spate of substitutions – India replaced three of their players who did the duty in the first-half and Rwandan also make full use of the substitutions.
Rwanda went on the offensive soon after their first goal, but their attempts were foiled by an alert Indian defence.
India too had a couple of close chances. In the 23rd minute, Renedy Singh fed Venkatesh from the left but the latter, who was very near the goal, fumbled with the ball.
Early in the second half, Vijayan's stinging long ranger was tipped away by a leaping Rwandan 'keeper Mahamud Mossi.
Rwanda came close to scoring in the 25th minute, but Satish Bharti came up with a goalline save. Oliver latched on to the ball after Mukherjee fumbled to collect and was out of his position. But Satish saved the day for the Indians.
India will now play their second match against Malaysia, on Friday.
The organisers later postponed the second match of the day, between Ghana and Malaysia, after the African team failed to turn up.
All India Football Fedreation secretary Alberto Colaco said they are keeping their fingers crossed.
"We will wait till tomorrow morning before revising the schedule," he said.