Nehru Cup - Houghton's Gamble Fails as India Lose to Lebanon

Abhishek Roy/IANS

New Delhi, Aug 20: India coach Bob Houghton's desperate measure to bring in injured ace striker Sunil Chettri in the second-half did not pay off as the defending champions lost 0-1 to a gutsy Lebanon in the opening match of the ONGC Nehru Cup football at the Ambedkar Stadium here Wednesday evening.

Houghton had no other option but to gamble with Chettri, who is still recovering from an ankle injury, in the second half after Sushil Singh, barring a few close chances, looked out of sort.

The result might have gone against India, but they certainly seemed to have benefited by the month-long training session at the Barcelona's Nou Camp. The Indians looked a lot better than the side that was thrashed 1-4 by Lebanon in the World Cup qualifiers.

But the Indians began on a sluggish note and allowed Lebanon to take a lead in the fourth minute from a brilliant free-kick by Ali Al Saad.

India were at the receiving end for most part of the first half, before picking themselves up just before the breather.

The 147th-ranked Lebanon were the superior side in phases against the 156th ranked hosts, who had more opportunities than their fancied rivals.

India, however, came back well in the second half with a well charted gameplan and enjoyed more ball possession to keep the pressure on Lebanon but the equaliser remained elusive.

Houghton started with four changes in his starting XI that last played in the AFC Challenge Cup final. He rejigged the midfield by bringing in Surkumar Singh and newcomer Anthony Pereira, N.S. Manju in the defence and Sushil upfront in place of Chettri.

India's new-look starting XI had to face some anxious moments as they were outpaced by Lebanon in the first few minutes with the attacking pair of Mohammad Gaddar and Mohmoud El Ali keeping the Indian defenders busy.

For India, the new combination of Bhaichung Bhutia and Sushil hardly made an impression. The Indian players then slowed down the pace and got the measure of Gaddar and Ali.

India increased the tempo in the last five minutes before the breather and created three opportunities but were unlucky to score.

N.P. Pradeep's header from Steven Dias' cross skimmed the bar while Sushil's shot on the turn was saved brilliantly by keeper Larry Mehana.

In the second half, Houghton stunned everybody by calling Chettri, who gave his best but that was not enough. Chettri was quick to outrun the resolute Lebanese defence but didn't get much support from the mid-field.

Dias, who played a crucial role in the last edition, showed some creativity in the midfield but Climax Lawrence was rusty. Newcomer Anthony Pereira, playing his second international match, looked impressive.

In the dying minutes, Bhutia was yellow carded for feigning injury after he was brought down at the Lebanon box.



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Title: Nehru Cup - Houghton's Gamble Fails as India Lose to Lebanon

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