India coach Bob Houghton had hinted at a few changes after the first game against Afghanistan. But one would have hardly imagined that the hosts would opt for some wholesale churning in their second Group A encounter of the AFC Challenge Cup, against defending champions Tajikistan in Hyderabad on Friday.
Six in the starting line-up hadn't begun against Afghanistan and India had to rely on a self-goal after Tajikistan custodian Alister Tuychiev deflected the faintest of headers from Bhaichung Bhutia in the 61st minute to nullify Yusuf Rabiev 11th minute strike.
Turkmenistan added to India's pressure beating Afghanistan 5-0 later in the day. Gunanchmuhamed Ovekov (1, 41, 76, 80) scored the tournament's first hattrick while Vyaceslav Krendelev (24) also was on target.
India and Turkmenistan now have four points from two games but the latter leads the table with better goal average. India could now need a win against them in the final group game on Sunday. A draw could give Tajikistan, now on two points, a chance to edge them for the second spot on better goal average if they beat Afghanistan.
A new-look India seemed disoriented at the start and the holders exploited some sloppy defending to pressure Subrata Pal in goal. Pal erred in the fifth minute failing to collect the ball but Clifford Miranda came up with a timely tackle to thwart Tajik midfielder Fatkhullo Fatkhuloev.
The relief though was shortlived. Rabiev put Tajikistan ahead with a simple tap in, off a low cross from Davrondzhon Tukhtasunov who had charged in from the right after rounding off Samir Naik.
India had the best chance of the first 45 minutes but it wasn't till the 15th, when Sunil Chhetri tried a long-ranger, that they got a look on goal. Chhetri also failed to cleanly connect a Dias cross from the right but Sushil Kumar Singh should have done better when Chhetri found him unmarked on top of the box. Having replaced Bhutia in the first XI, Sushil's first touch though was below par and his subsequent effort too weak to test goalkeeper Alister Tuychiev.
Houghton rang in the changes in the second half bringing Surkumar Singh for Gawli and getting Bhutia on for Sushil in the 61st. Bhutia's induction brought lot more urgency to India's game and he found the equaliser within two minutes of arrival.