Goalkeeper Niraj Kumar turned out to be the hero as India for the first time ever in 33 years, held heavyweights Iran across all age groups in official matches.
The last time India managed to hold Iran, across all age groups, was in December 1984 in the Asia Cup Finals in Singapore. That game also ended in a goalless stalemate as did India's match against Iran in the AFC U-16 Championship Malaysia 2018.
With this, the India U16 team have taken an important leap towards the AFC (Asian Football Confederation) U16 Championship knock-outs phases. And much credit for this goes to the young-goalkeeper Niraj Kumar.
As expected, Iran asserted their dominance early in the game with the Asian Giants coming close to scoring in the 23rd minute. However, Indian custodian Niraj Kumar was up to the task to keep out the persistent Irani efforts and much to the Blue Colts relief.
Superb pressing football backed by the confident defensive organization and some sharp counter-attacks helped India’s cause. For all the possession that Iran enjoyed, it was India who had two of the easiest opportunities towards end of the second-half.
The match also saw a young lad from Punjab standing under between the sticks for India maturing into a young man. Niraj Kumar blocked a 76th-minute penalty to deny the fancied Iranians full points.
Niraj stayed confident all throughout and was unbeatable in the aerial balls, leaping higher than all every time to collect the crosses from the flanks. He also dived full length to make a stunning save to deny Iran in the 16th minute.
The Indian midfield was stubborn as well as the defensive back-four. There was support and backup from each other. It was a superb display of tactical football.
The Indian Colts cajoled an opportunity in the 35th minute of the match, but Ridge De’Mello’s shot from outside of the box went inches wide of the goal. The half-time scoreline read goalless as both teams went into the tunnel on level pegging.
An attacking India emerged in the second half and the Colts ran onto Iran’s final third in the early minutes of the second half itself but to no avail, as the Iran defence line held them at bay.
In a battle for midfield supremancy, both teams nullified each other out with chances coming in rare. While the Indian colts relied on counters, Iran resorted to set pieces. But both failed to create goal scoring chances.
India's compact defence held strong until the final whistle as the two teams shared the spoils after playing out a thrilling draw at the Bukit Jalil Stadium on Monday.
The Indian U-16 National Team faces Indonesia next in the AFC U-16 Championship on September 27, 2018, in their last match of the group stage. India have four points from two games so far.