[India], Oct 13 (ANI): In what was touted as India's step up in the international football arena, a tenacious display at the back helped the Blue Tigers hold China to a goalless draw at the Suzhou Olympic Sports Centre Stadium in Suzhou City on Saturday.
With an eye on 2019's Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup, the result will come as huge morale booster for Stephen Constantine's 97th ranked Indian team as they fended off a wasteful China with relative ease. Although the Indians were lacked quality and composure to deal any damage in the final third, they can take heart from their rock-solid defence and an ever-improving goalkeeper in Gurpreet Singh Sandhu.
Meanwhile, Marcello Lippi, who won the FIFA World Cup with Italy on 2006, has so far not been able to find the formula to make the 76th ranked Red Dragons click, something evident in the clash with a much inferior India. The draw extends his side's winless run to three consecutive games, who have now won just two games from seven in the calendar year.
The proceedings started with the Chinese making inroads down the flanks, although a mix of poor crossing and a resolute defending averted any potential threats from the Chinese incursions.
India's first sight at goal came in the 13th minute when a thumping effort from full-back Pritam Kotal was sharply parried away by China's goalkeeper Yan Junling. The Blue Tigers came close again on the 17th-minute mark, with top scorer Sunil Chhetri firing an effort over the crossbar after he was picked up by Anirudh Thapa from a free-kick.
Sandhu put in a performance worthy to be recognised as the man-of-the-match, with a string of brilliant saves, one of which came in the 24th minute when he saved Chinese striker Gao Lin's effort from 12 yards with his outstretched feet.
The second half saw four changes from China as the hosts piled up the pressure, although profligacy in front of goal was the theme for both sides, as none managed to break the deadlock.
China came close to scoring at the 50-minute mark when Xiao Zhi found Lin inside the box with a low cross, although the striker's shot bounced off the post and stayed out. A guilt-edged opportunity was then passed up by the hosts as Lin found an unmarked Wu Lei, who also struck the frame of the goal to let the visitors off the hook.
India had a chance to win the game right at the death as substitute Farukh Choudhary, who slipped through the Chinese defence, was found by Nikhil Poojary, although his tame effort was easily saved by Junling. Had he converted his chance, India would surely have gone on to win the match, something they have failed to do in all 17 previous meetings.
This was the first India-China match to be played in Chinese soil. The two neighbouring Asian sides met for the first time in 21 years, with the last India-China match being held in the 1997 Nehru Cup, where China emerged victorious 2-1. (ANI)