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Come rain, come shine

Chhetri, Pereira help India thwart Syrian charge in testing conditions on the opening day. Rohit Bhaskar reports. Nehru Cup

sports Updated: Aug 23, 2012 01:49 IST
Rohit Bhaskar
Nehru cup

The elements may have colluded against him. His team was in no such mood.

India’s Dutch coach Wim Koevermans had promised a more eye-catching brand of football, but when the conditions made it difficult to play the beautiful game, his team showed the adaptability to tweak their style to suit a soaked JLN Stadium pitch, and eke out a 2-1 win over Syria.

The Dutchman could even joke about it in end, and lightheartedly said in the post-match conference, "From next time, we should water the pitch before the match. We’ll win all the time," and deftly swatted away an ill-timed query on the victory being attributed to the Indian players’ familiarity playing on waterlogged pitches.http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/Popup/2012/8/23_08_12-metro20c.jpg

Good start
Before the heavens opened, 20 minutes into the match, India played true to the style they’d displayed in practice and warm-up matches. Lining-up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, central midfielders Lenny Rodrigues and Mehtab Hossain were the team’s pivot, linking up well with attack. The lanky Goan in particular showed great ball distribution skills and had a role in both the goals. Francis Fernandes, who played in the hole, just behind the sole striker, also showed good off the ball movement and evaded his markers on many occasions.

However, after encouraging early exchanges, rain played spoilsport, and in the 34th minute the Uzbek referee ordered the players off the ground. After an inspection by the match commissioner 20 minutes later play resumed, albeit on turf that resembled an Olympic swimming pool than a football pitch.

That man again
In first-half stoppage time, India went ahead through their hero of Nehru Cups past. Lenny’s measured through ball released Clifford Miranda down the left. The portly Goan beautifully shielded the ball and evaded a sliding tackle. He then sped past the Syrian centre-back and lifted an inch-perfect cross that Sunil Chhetri clinically headed into the empty net.

The second-half was a stop-gap affair, with the heavy pitch making it difficult to build any substantial moves. India finally put the result beyond any doubt in the 83rd minute. Substitute Anthony Pereira found space on the right wing after Lenny set him through. Pereira cut inside and nutmeged the defender, before unleashing an unstoppable left-footed effort from the edge of the box that sailed into the top-left corner.

Syria pulled a goal back in the 90th thanks to a rare India defensive lapse, but it proved to be nothing more than consolation.