Adil Khan emerges saviour, salvages draw with Bangladesh

Adil Khan's late header earned the Indian football team a 1-1 draw with Bangladesh in their FIFA World Cup qualifier at the Salt Lake Stadium on Tuesday.

Adil Khan's late header ensured the Indian football team salvaged a 1-1 draw with Bangladesh in their FIFA World Cup Asian qualifier at the Salt Lake Stadium on Tuesday.   -  Rajeev Bhatt

Igor Stimac warned us not to underestimate Bangladesh. He said his team would not underestimate Bangladesh. On the night, though, his players seemed to go against those words with a sticky performance and were bailed out by a late goal. Saad Uddin had silenced a near 60,000-plus home crowd at the Salt Lake Stadium but was foiled at the death by Adil Khan as India and Bangladesh played out a 1-1 draw in the Group E FIFA World Cup Asian qualifier at the Salt Lake Stadium here.

When the line-ups were announced, it appeared that India would operate with a light-weight midfield of Anirudh Thapa and Sahal Abdul Samad. Sunil Chhetri returned to side and was stationed alongside Manvir Singh at the top. Ashique Kuruniyan was recalled, too, as India, at least on paper, seemed to change from its 4-3-3 against Qatar to a two-man midfield.

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When the match got underway, Thapa was left to marshal the midfield on his own. India failed to pass through Bangladesh’s packed midfield and resorted to having centre-backs play the ball long from the back. Rowllin Borges’ absence loomed large in midfield as India was often exposed by Bangladesh’s pace on the wings, who were aided by India’s sloppy passing in the first half.

Bangladesh had a plan, while India seemed like it did not. Jamie Day’s men were quick to close down, harry the ball out of the Indian players’ feet and broke at pace with Mohammad Ibrahim and Rayhan Hasan. Rahul Bheke, who was cleared to start, had a nightmare first half and his troubles began as early as the opening seconds of the match. He lost the ball to Ibrahim and back-tracked to only hack down the winger in the process. The referee, however, did not point to the spot.

Both teams weren’t too inventive when playing along the ground. Sahal Abdul Samad feigned on the ball on multiple occasions, twisting and turning the Bangladesh players but had one too many players to get past. India came up with more training ground routines from set-pieces, while Bangladesh came up with long throw-ins from the touchline, made famous by Rory Delap of Stoke City.

Then from a normal set-piece routine in the 41st minute, Bangladesh skipper Jamal Bhuyan floated the ball into the box and Saad got his head to it before Gurpreet and Adil, who ended up colliding against each other. The ball bounced over the line and Saad wheeled away in celebration. The visiting side went into the break with a slender lead, while the Indians were left to rue their lack of chances.

Bangladesh's Saad Uddin celebrates scoring against India in their FIFA World Cup Asian qualifier at the Salt Lake Stadium on Tuesday.   -  Rajeev Bhatt

 

Bangladesh striker Mohammad Ziban had a strong chance to kill the game early on in the second half. A heavy-legged Thapa couldn’t catch up to Ibrahim’s sprint from his own half before slipping the ball in behind India’s back four. Gurpreet closed down the angle and stuck out his foot to block Ziban’s side-footer. Thapa was subsequently replaced by Raynier Fernandes in the 66th minute.

Bangladesh nearly doubled its lead when Ibrahim’s mishit cross from the left in the 54th minute sailed past Gurpreet and clattered against the crossbar.

Stimac made an early change in the second half and was papering over his first half errors by adding more urgency to the team. Mandar Desai was removed for attacking midfielder Brandon Fernandes in the 56th minute and winger Lallianzuala Chhangte, too, was added late on and was playing as a right back. India moved the ball with more purpose but risked getting caught out at the back.

Zubin had another opportunity when he chipped the ball over Gurpreet’s head, but Adil made a crucial overhead clearance near the goalline to keep the Blue Tigers in the game.

Moment of glory: Adil Khan scores the equaliser against Bangladesh.   -  Rajeev Bhatt

 

The Indians had a couple of shots from distance and rained crosses in from flanks but they were valiantly denied by the Bangladesh backline. Sunil Chhetri caught a volley neatly inside the box which was deflected behind by Biplo Ahmed for a corner. Brandon’s inswinging ball was met by Adil’s head at the near post and the ball nestled into the net to level the score in the 88th minute.

With a rapturous home crowd willing them on, the Indian players surged forward for the winner. Chhetri, who has often been a thorn in Bangladesh with his late goals, cut inside to the centre of the box but his shot meekly trickled into the hands of the goalkeeper Ashraful Islam.

But that would have been cruel on Bangladesh, who on another night and with better refereeing decisions could have walked home with all three points.

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