MUMBAI: ST Kitts & Nevis, known as the Sugar Boyz, gave India a bitter pill to swallow, holding them 1-1 in the final game of the tri-nations tournament at Mumbai’s Andheri Sports Complex on Thursday evening. Not only did St Kitts & Nevis put on a gutsy show against opponents ranked 28 places above them, but did so with a B team made up of amateurs and semi-professionals, and an average age of 22.8 years.
A precise header from the 5’7 Jackichand Singh, assisted by Rowlin Borges, had put India in lead in the 39th minute but the visitors hit back with a goal in the 71st minute. Even though India emerged at top, having beaten Mauritius 2-1 in the first match, in the tournament, it wasn’t the best of shows India has put up in recent times, which has seen them climb to 97 in the rankings. With the AFC Asian Cup qualification match against Macau, away from home, on the horizon, these two matches were mainly used to get players some game time.
But the young Indian team, without their Bengaluru FC stars including Sunil Chhetri, failed to stamp their authority on their lower-ranked opponents. The team has failed to sustain level of play the full 90 minutes, and it was evident on Thursday against the side from the Caribbean as the hosts failed to back up their solid first-half performance.
They gave their opponents too many chances and too much space to come back. The substitutes by St Kitts & Nevis were the ones who led the fightback. Forward Bertie Carlos set the ball in motion, when his shot at goal was saved by Indian goalkeeper Subrata Paul. That led to a sequence of corner, free-kick, corner, corner for the visitors, and their confidence seemed to grow with each set piece.
On the last corner, the ball was directed to Hanley Tiran, standing outside the box. He flicked it on, and Amory Gvaune caught it on the volley and sent it at the back of the net. India’s desperate attempts in the five minutes of added time came to zilch as they could not quite get the final shot.