SAFF Championship: India held 1-1 by Bangladesh 10 in opening match

India allowed a 10-man Bangladesh to come back and score a shock goal after talismanic captain Sunil Chhetri’s 76th international goal to play a 1-1 draw in their first SAFF Championship game here on Monday.

Chhetri, 37, making his 121st game for India, struck in the 27th minute to be just one goal behind legendary Brazilian Pelé (77 goals in 92 matches).

He now occupies fourth place in the ranking of top scorers among active footballers, behind Cristiano Ronaldo (111), Lionel Messi (79) and Iraqi Ali Mabkhout (77).

India were the better team in the first half and although they often lost the ball they looked like they were cruising. They also had a power play from the 54th minute after Bangladeshi player Biswanath Ghosh was sent off for fouling Liston Colaco.

But Igor Stimac’s men failed to stop the rapid Bangladeshi counter-attackers in their tracks and conceded a goal in the 74th minute to share the points, much to the dismay of the Indian camp.

Bangladesh have always been a tough opponent for India who needed a late equalizer to draw in the 2022 World Cup qualifying first leg in Calcutta before winning 2-0 in the second leg .

India were in attack mode from the start, but a swift Bangladesh counterattack almost caught them napping and center-back Chinglensana Singh made a crucial clearance after Ibrahim whipped a low cross from the left for Motin Mia.

Bangladesh also secured a few corners, but India gained the upper hand after that with Udanta Singh, who came back after missing two friendlies with Nepal, managing to outsmart his marker and providing flank crosses.

Manvir Singh had a weak header on such a cross in the 24th minute, but Chhetri was not the one who missed the other three minutes later. Pritam Kotal freed Udanta on the right flank who cut the ball close to the signing and a perfectly placed Chhetri smashed him into the roof of the net.

Liston Colaco, who had an impressive outing, attempted Bangladesh’s goal in the 36th minute to no avail. Three minutes later, Chhetri landed another powerful left-footed strike, but goalkeeper Anisur Rahman made a diving save.

India survived a scare in the 40th minute, this time also due to a swift Bangladeshi counterattack. But goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu made a diving save on Biplo Ahmed’s shot to keep India’s lead intact.

Stimac replaced Anirudh Thapa by bringing Brandon Fernandes into the middle of the park on the restart and India also got a power play after Biswanath Ghosh was sent off in the 54th minute for knocking down Colaco with only the goalkeeper in front.

Three minutes before that, however, Bangladesh had a chance to equalize but Rakib Hossain shot wide after being left free in the Indian box.

Bangladesh goalkeeper Rahman made a double save in the 61st minute blocking shots from Manvir and Udanta.

Stimac replaced Colaco with Lalengmawia and Udanta with Rahim Ali just after the hour mark. But the Bangladeshis, playing under a new coach after the 2022 World Cup qualifiers, withdrew one in the 74th minute despite a shorthandedness .

Yasser Arafat sent a diving header from a corner into the Indian goal.

India face Sri Lanka on Thursday in their second round robin match.