Defending champions India set the tone of the SAFF Cup with a 4-0 win over Nepal in Male on Tuesday but victory was blighted by the recurrence of the hamstring curse.
NP Pradeep opened the scoring and Bhaichung Bhutia, Sunil Chettri and Sushil Kumar Singh got one each in the Group A opener. According to information reaching in Kolkata, three of the goals stemmed from moves down the right channel where Steven Dias was in imperious form. Manju headed home from a Dias free-kick and Chhetri connected a Dias assist with a brilliant diving header.
Skipper Bhutia scored from a spectacular back-volley after being fed by a Climax Lawrence header. However, India suffered a huge blow when left full-back NS Manju pulled a hamstring. Having used their substitutions by then, India played the last 17 minutes with 10 men even scoring in that time.
Manju was stretchered out and looks doubtful for the rest of the tournament. “This is a big blow,” admitted team manager Pradip Chowdhury said from Male. With Debabrata Roy dropped, there’s only Samir Naik to fall back on. After Surkumar Singh and Baldeep Singh, Manju is the third to be knocked down by a hamstring problem. There were more injury worries for India as central defender Gourmangi Singh too had to be substituted, following a hamstring strain. But he should be ready for the next match against Pakistan on Thursday, Choudhury said. “Nepal started well but the first goal dashed their hopes,” said Chowdhury. “Nepal fought well, but technically there’s a big gap with this India team.”
India: Subrata Pal; Dipak Mondal, Mahesh Gawli, Gourmangi Singh (Anwar Ali), N.S. Manju; Steven Dias, Climax Lawrence, NP Pradeep (Mehrajuddin Wadao), Renedy Singh; Bhaichung Bhutia (Sushil Kumar Singh), Sunil Chettri.
India 4 Nepal 0