An inconsistent India [ Images ] lacked the cutting edge as they were held to a 1-1 draw by a spirited Afghanistan in their opening match of the SAFF Football Championship in New Delhi [ Images ] on Saturday.
Star striker Sunil Chhetri found the net on his return from Glasgow Rangers but fluffed a sitter in the second half as India's hopes of kicking off their campaign with a win went up in smoke.
Balal Arezo stunned the hosts when he fired in a volley from inside the box just four minutes into the match, before Chhetri cancelled out the lead six minutes later with a clean header off a Steven Dias corner.
Afghanistan thereafter, led by the striking duo of Arezo and Sanjar Ahmadi, troubled the Indians with their sporadic raids.
India, on the other hand, were found wanting when it came to wing-play against the minnows.
The normally accurate Dias did manage to deliver some useful crosses from the right but his partner on the left, Clifford Miranda's performance was below par and that did hurt the hosts, raked 162nd in the world as against Aghanistan's 178th, the lowest in the eight-nation tournament.
It was no surprise when Afghanistan went ahead, exposing the chinks in India's armour. Miranda was nowhere to be seen as Arezo, running down the left flank, picked up a loose ball from the experienced Mahesh Gawli to slot home past Indian custodian Karanjit Singh.
There was an opening for India soon after but Chhetri's attempt was too feeble to trouble the visitors. But the Delhi footballer, back from a brief stint at Scottish Giants Glasgow Rangers along with his strike partner Jeje Lalpekhula, did not fumble the second time as he leaped to head one from the near post.
Sri Lanka [ Images ] thrash Bhutan
Nipuna Dewinda Bandara struck twice as Sri Lanka thrashed Bhutan 3-0 to kick off their campaign in the SAFF Football Championship on a winning note.
Bandara found the target in the 35th and 65th minutes after Mi Mohammad Zain opened the scoring 29 minutes into the first half at the Jawaharlal Nehru [ Images ] stadium.
The match was as good as over in the first half itself as Sri Lanka never gave the Bhutanese an inch in the Group A match, which followed the 1-1 stalemate between hosts India and Afghanistan.
Bhutan would have lost by an even bigger margin had Mohamed Zain's attempt from outside the box not missed the target by a whisker.
In the 14th minute, goalkeeper Mon Bdr Bhattrai made a mockery of a simple collection, nearly helping the ball into his own net.
Sri Lanka, the better of the two sides, made the first breakthrough when Chathura Gunarathna's cross from the left was slotted home by Mohamed Zain.
Bandara doubled the lead when he scored from inside the box after being fed by Mohamed Zain.
Bandara was in the thick of things again as he scored his second goal of the match, thanks to the relentless pressure the Lankans applied on the Bhutanese citadel.