India secured the top spot in Group A of the SAFF U-16 Championship to seal their berth in the semi-finals, defeating Nepal 1-0 at the Changlimithang Stadium in Thimphu, Bhutan, on Wednesday, September 6, 2023.
The Blue Colts produced a dominant performance against Nepal and were denied by the woodwork on four occasions, as they secured the victory by just one goal, which was scored by Mohammed Arbash in the first half.
India, who needed just a draw to secure the top spot in Group A, made a cautious start. While Nepal enjoyed slightly longer bouts of possession in the middle of the park, the Blue Colts looked to penetrate, largely through Vishal Yadav on the right wing.
Usham Singh, India’s goalscorer in the previous match against Bangladesh, had the perfect opportunity to put his side in the lead within the first 15 minutes when he ran onto a cross from the right inside the Nepal penalty box, but he sent his effort into the woodwork.
Nepal captain, Subash Bam was a constant menace down the left, and Usham Singh had to put in a double shift to keep him in check.
India finally had the breakthrough three minutes after the half-hour mark, when Yadav scampered in from the right and sent a cut-back to Md Arbash, who smashed it home at the near post.
With the halftime break approaching, the Blue Colts had a rather nervy moment when Nepal’s first-half substitute, Himesh Majhi, intercepted a defensive pass by Mohammed Kaif near the Indian box. However, Mate Ngamgouhou was on hand to snatch the ball from him and avert the danger.
Mate was in the thick of things once again after the changeover, this time making a foray down the left, looking to put a ball into the Nepal box, but he was soon fouled. The resulting free-kick went over the woodwork.
A few minutes later, India almost doubled their lead when a free-kick from the left by Bharat Lairenjam was nodded onto the crossbar by Arbash.
A little after the hour mark, Vishal jinked into the Nepal box and proceeded to the goal line, looking for a cut-back, but went down under a heavy challenge. A subsequent blow of the whistle by the referee created some confusion as the Indians thought they had won a penalty. The referee, however, had adjudged the ball to have travelled over the line.
After a period of play when the two sides cancelled each other out in the middle, the closing stages of the game turned out to be much more of an end-to-end affair. Bobby Singh, who came on as a substitute in the last 10 minutes, looked lively, drifting across the front line, causing confusion among the Nepal defenders.
With eight minutes of regulation time left, Bobby worked a short corner on the right and played it to Rishi Singh, whose effort hit the crossbar. Manbhakupar Malngiang got on the rebound, but his effort was blocked.
In the 86th minute, Rishi was unlucky not to have given India the two-goal cushion as his shot from outside the box hit the crossbar. Minutes later, Mate swivelled past his marker and played a through ball to Malngiang, who was looking to put it into the bottom corner, but Nepal keeper Pemba Bhote came out of his line to clear his lines.Nepal captain had two golden opportunities to level the scores in added time, but Yaipharemba Chingkham blocked both shots to maintain the status quo as India secured their second win of the competition and the top spot in Group A.
India XI: Aheibam Suraj Singh; Usham Singh (c), Karish Soram, Mohammed Kaif (Newton Singh 90+2’), Yaipharemba Chingkham; Mate Ngamgouhou (Renin Singh 90+2’), Levis Zangminlun, Mohamed Arbash (Rishi Singh 75’); Vishal Yadav (Manbhakupar Malngiang 63’), Bharat Lairenjam (Bobby Singh 75’), Samson Ahongshangbam.