Dempo Sports Club’s wonder kid Romeo Fernandes came off the bench to score in only his second appearance for the National Team asIndiaheld much fancied and higher rankedUnited Arab Emiratesto a 1-1 draw and stay in the hunt for qualification to the main draw of the AFC U-23 Championships.
You could tell at the end of the game that this tournament may just herald the dawn of a new era in Indian football. Watched by national team coach Wim Koevermans, Technical Dirctor Robert Baan and AIFF General Secretary Kushal Das from the sidelines the Indian colts gave a fine account of themselves holding UAE courtesy of an 88th minute header from Romeo Fernandes.
India started again without their injured captain Jeje Lalpekhlua- coach Arthur Papas playing Shaiju Mon and the robust Manadeep Singh up front in the absence of top scorer Allwyn George who had to sit out due to a double booking. A Jamal Ibrahim header though put UAE in front after just 9minutes after the Indian defense failed to track his run.India’s defensive quartet of Prathamesh Maulingkar, Abhishek Das, Narayan Das and Souvik Ghosh were initially put under severe pressure by the tall UAE strikers but they slowly got into their groove and then things began to change drastically.
After the initial anxious moments, the Indian midfield started playing more confidently with Lalrindika Ralte in particular making some good runs down the left. In the centre of the park, Tirthankar Sarkar and Milan Singh were doing all the hard work while Pranoy Halder who got his second successive start was ever so impressive on the right of midfield. ThatIndiacreated as many as seven corners in the game spoke about the Indian domination after the early UAE goal.
The second half too saw an Indian domination from start to finish. Captain Jeje Lalpekhlua’s (who came on as a substitute) header went just over the bar in the 69th minute.India though was finally rewarded for all their persistence and attack when Romeo Fernandes headed in a Vishal Singh throw in to earn a point forIndia.
National Coach Wim Koevermans and Technical Director Rob Baan were pleased with he manner in which India fought back. “I told you, you will find some good boys in this batch,” Papas told Wim.
“The boys fought well. It was heartening to fight with such a spirit against such a quality side,” AIFF general Secretary Kushal Das said after the match.
India next play Turkmenistan on 30th June although the clash against Oman a couple of days later will be the crucial game which decides who progresses form that group.