Bhaichung Bhutia muttered a few words of angst as he saw his ambitious long-ranger sail wide of the Afghanistan goal in the 76th minute. The Indian skipper was just airing his team's frustration, as the hosts were kept under a tight leash in their inaugural match of the second AFC Challenge Cup tournament here on Wednesday.
And, had it not been for the lucky break in injury time that handed midfielder Climax Lawrence an open goal, India would have had to settle for a goalless draw. Finally, the hosts heaved a sigh of relief when Lawrance's goal handed them a 1-0 win.
Bhutia and Renedy Singh initiated the move from the right and, as Afghan custodian Shahsuddin Amiri came out to collect the cross, he collided with Sunil Chhetri and the ball rolled over to Lawrence, who just needed to nudge the ball in.
The Afghan players tried to protest as midfielder Israfeel Kohistani lay on the ground, but referee Masaaki Iemoto of Japan overruled them and even booked the midfielder for feigning injury.
Earlier, the Indians began on a positive note, banking on long balls and aerial crosses from Renedy Singh on the left flank. The move seemed to have paid immediate dividends when skipper Bhutia managed to head one such cross in the sixth minute, but the ball rolled out.
Bhutia again came close to scoring in the 22nd minute when Chhetri headed a free kick from Surkumar Singh, but the striker was blocked well by two Afghanistan defenders. Egged on by a small group of supporters sitting in one corner of the stadium, the Afghanistan attack began to gather momentum. They almost came close to scoring against the run of play in the 27th minute when striker Hafizullah Qadami received the ball on top of the box. He then browbeat Deepak Mondal before unleashing a right footer that clipped the outstretched hands of goalkeeper Subrata Paul and went over the crossbar.
Paul again came to India's rescue in the 42nd minute when Qadami played a quick one-two with Abdul Aser to get a clear look at inside the box, but the goalkeeper rushed out to thwart the goal.
Defender Deepak Mondal limped out in the 81st minute, forcing coach Bob Houghton to bring in the experienced Mahesh Gawli. The forced substitution also restricted the Englishman's attacking options as he had already made two changes before that.
The extent of Mondal's injury was not immediately known.
Tajikistan survive a scare
Defending champions Tajikistan survived a scare in their opening match thanks to the Turkmenistan strikers who sprayed the ball all over and some good saves by goalkeeper Alisher Tuychiev.