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AFC U-16 Championship: Defiant India bank on Niraj's heroics to hold Iran to a 0-0 draw

With the win against Iran, the Indian colts collected four points from two games. Credit: AIFF

Kuala Lumpur, September 24: Thirty three long years! For the first time ever in 33 years, an Indian team on Monday (September 24) held an Iran national team across all age groups in official matches or in any official men's competition. The last time India managed to hold Iran was on December 7, 1984 in the Asia Cup Finals in Singapore.

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That match too had ended goalless as did the India under-16 team's match against Iran in the ongoing AFC U-16 Championship in Kuala Lumpur at the Bukit Jalil Stadium on Monday (September 24).

Superb pressing football backed by confident defensive organisation and some sharp counter attacks helped India's cause. For all the possession that Iran enjoyed, it was India who had two of the easiest opportunities of the match in the dying embers of the second half. Ravi Rana missed the first one as his chip went inches over the Iranian goal while the second one was shot inches wide by Sailo after he rounded the Iranian custodian but could not finish from close range.

The match also saw Punjab youngster Niraj Kumar standing under the Indian bar maturing into a creditable goalkeeper as he thwarted an Iranian penalty in the 76th minute. Niraj stayed confident all throughout and was unbeatable in the aerial balls, leaping higher than all every time to collect the crosses from the flanks. He also dived full length to make a stunning save to deny Iran in the 16th minute.

"We could have won the match. It was that close. But the boys gave their hundred percent on the pitch and they performed according to the game plan", said head coach of the Indian U16s, Bibiano Fernandes after the match.

"We are happy with a draw, though we aimed for a win and now we focus towards the next match against Indonesia (September 27)." The Indian midfield was stubborn as well as the defensive back-four. There was support and backup from each other. It was a superb display of tactical football.

The Indian Colts cajoled an opportunity in the 35th minute of the match, but Ridge De'Mello's shot from outside of the box went inches wide of the goal. The half-time scoreline read goalless as both teams went into the tunnel on level pegging.

An attacking India emerged in the second half and the Colts ran onto Iran's final third in the early minutes of the second half itself but to no avail, as the Iran defence line held them at bay.

In a battle for midfield territory, both teams nullified each other out with chances coming in rare. While the Indian colts relied on counters, Iran resorted to set pieces. Both failed to create goal scoring chances. In the 76th minute, Iran were awarded a penalty kick after India committed a foul inside the box, but Iran's attempt from the penalty spot was saved heroically by goalkeeper Niraj.

Two minutes later, Ravi's shot from more than 30 yards out caught the Iran custodian napping, but failed to find the target as it whistled past the goal. Meanwhile, Indian defender Shahbas Ahammed was stretchered off following an injury in the 66th minute and was replaced by Harpreet Singh.

The Indian team next faces Indonesia on Thursday (September 27) in their last match of the group stage. India have four points from two games so far.

Source: AIFF

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    Story first published: Monday, September 24, 2018, 18:14 [IST]
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