A goal each half gave India a 2-0 victory over Nepal, and made Sunil Chhetri the country’s all-time leading goal-scorer, in Tuesday’s friendly at the Kanchenjunga stadium in Siliguri.
Chhetri opened the scoring in the 21st minute and Clifford Miranda added a second in the 49th, perfectly finishing off a counter-attack.
The opening goal took Chhetri past Bhaichung Bhutia’s tally of 42 international goals from 107 matches in his 80th match. He now has 43 goals to his name.
India’s other leading scores are I M Vijayan, 40 goals from 79 matches; Shabbir Ali, 23 goals from 72 matches; and P K Banerjee, 19 from 36.
Chhetri’s scripted history in the 21st minute following a move by Lalrindika Ralte, who found an unmarked Miranda on the left.
Robin Singh, whose physical presence was a constant threat to the Nepal defence, neatly headed in Miranda’s cross, but couldn’t beat an outstretched rival goalkeeper Kiran Limbu. However, Chhetri, who was following it up, slotted the ball home.
Even as crowd went wild, perhaps, no eyes turned towards Bhutia, who was in the stands. But those that did, just couldn’t miss the grin on the face of the ‘Sikkimese sniper’. Hands up, he was perhaps the loudest cheerleader, like Chhetri was in his school days when he cheered many of his idol's goals.
After the final whistle, Bhutia walked up to Chhetri in the dug-out and embraced him.
“Score as many as you can, I am very happy for you today,” he said to him.
<Earlier, India pressed right from the kick-off. In the first minute itself, Francis Fernandes tried to round his way past Rabin Shresthta off the first attack but just as Fernandes was about to essay his cross, Shreshtha recovered in the nick of time to thwart India. However, off the resultant corner rival goalkeeper Limbu leapt higher than all to collect the ball.
It was just the start India needed. Play was stretched to the flanks, switched from one side to the other, a series of quick-passes interchanged.
In the 13th minute, Chhetri, collecting the ball from the middle of the park, played a one-two with Mehtab Hossain and put Robin in the box. But the jungle of legs frustrated Robin.
In the next minute, a brilliant counter-attack initiated by Mehtab didn’t get the result it deserved as Fernandes’s left-footer form just outside the box hit the post.
As the match progressed, it was hard to keep a tab of the attacks. Rarely in the first-half did goalkeeper Karanjit Singh collect the ball.
Once Limbu palmed Robin’s prompt right-footer; then he gathered Chhetri’s powerful right-footer from close and almost every time he managed to tip over those aerial crosses from the flanks as India went into the interval enjoying a 1-0 lead.
Post resumption, Miranda doubled it. The counter-attack was initiated by Mehtab, who put Robin in possession on the right flank. Robin’s grounder was neatly tapped in by Miranda.
In the meantime, Biraj Mahajan, on the left flank, was having a tough time to contain Miranda, as the Dempo veteran’s feints kept him guessing.
Lalrindika, who played in tandem with Mehtab, saw his effort narrowly miss the mark in the 59th minute. Even as the ball bounced awkwardly in front of him, Ralte managed to keep it down, but even with Limbu beaten, it went out.
The next minute, Robin Singh hit the bar. This time, an overlapping debutant Narayan Das, the 476th player to play for India, ran past the entire midfield and put the ball through for Robin, but the last-named’s powerful shot bounced off the upright.
Soon Victorino Fernandes became India’s 477th player, when he came on as a substitute for Fernandes in the 75th minute. Then, Rocus Lamare replaced Lalrindika Ralte in the 83rd minute while CK Vineeth replaced Miranda two minutes later.
By then, Victorino had already created an impression on the right. His sudden bursts of pace caught the rival defence on the wrong foot twice. But the score-sheet did not change.
India: Karanjit Singh; Denzil Franco, Arnab Mondal, Aiborlang Khongjee, Narayan Das (India debut), Francis Fernandes (Victorino Fernandes – 75th minute), Mehtab Hossain, Lalrindika Ralte (Rocus Lamare – 83rd), Clifford Miranda (CK VIneeth - 85th), Sunil Chhetri (Captain), Robin Singh.
Image: India captain Sunil Chhetri lead the team out against Nepal in Tuesday's friendly at Siliguri
Photograph: AIFF Media