Bhutia keeps India hopes alive
© AFP

Captain Baichung Bhutia scored on his 100th appearance for India as the defending champions remained in contention to reach the Nehru Cup final after recording a hard-fought 2-1 win over Kyrgyzstan in Delhi. Bhutia superbly fired home two minutes before the break before Sunil Chetri converted from the penalty spot just before the hour mark. India goalkeeper Subrata Pal maintained the lead with a penalty save minutes later before substitute Mirlan Murzaev grabbed a last-minute consolation for Kyrgyzstan.

Following their surprise opening-day defeat by Lebanon, India joined Syria, Sri Lanka and Lebanon on three points, but they know another setback will virtually end their chances of securing a top-two finish in the group to reach the 31 August final. In front of capacity crowd at Ambedkar Stadium, Steven Dias volleyed wide for India after just five minutes before providing the cross for Naduparambil Pappachan Pradeep to head narrowly wide.

Subrata was forced into a superb save after ten minutes to deny Vadim Harchenko as Kyrgyzstan produced a rare threat on goal. Chetri sprung the Kyrgyzstan offside trap after 30 minutes to release Bhutia, but goalkeeper Pavel Matiash denied the India captain. But with half-time approaching Bhutia expertly controlled a long ball forward from Pal on the edge of the area before turning his marker and firing a shot which stuck both posts before crossing the line as India finally converted their dominance into a breakthrough.

Bhutia struck the India post four minutes after half-time after Climax Lawrence's shot was only parried by Matiash. But the home crowd only had to wait nine minutes for India to double the lead. Bhutia was brought down by Matiash inside the area as he attempted to surge past the Kyrgyzstan custodian and Chetri slotted home the resulting penalty.

Kyrgyzstan had a chance to respond just a minute later, but after Almazbek Mirzaliev had been brought down inside the area by Gouramangi Moirangthem Singh, Subrata superbly saved the ensuing penalty. Both sides had a chance to score as the half progressed, as Anthony Pereira shot wide for India before Pal almost handed Kyrgyzstan an opener with 15 minutes remaining as he misjudged a cross.

Chetri fired wide a minute later following a storming solo run from Bhutia before Kyrgyzstan were finally rewarded for their efforts as half-time substitute Murzaev exchanged a neat one-two on the edge of the area before firing past Subrata. But Kyrgyzstan were unable to find an equaliser as India survived five minutes of added time, although they know they must improve before Wednesday's meeting with Sri Lanka.