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SAFF Championship: Sahal, Mahesh make mark for Team India in the tournament

Amid the loud cheers that have often been reserved for talismanic Sunil Chhetri, two young footballers were quietly making their mark during India's SAFF Championship campaign so far

Representative Image (Photo: Shuttershock)

Representative Image (Photo: Shuttershock)

Press Trust of India Bengaluru
Amid the loud cheers that have often been reserved for talismanic Sunil Chhetri, two young footballers were quietly making their mark during India's SAFF Championship campaign so far.
It's not that Sahal Abdul Samad and Mahesh Singh are unfamiliar names to Indian football afficionados, but they validated their potential to carry forward a rich legacy in Indian football.
The duo were particularly impressive against a gritty Nepal whom India beat 2-0 Saturday night at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium to book a semifinal berth.
Nepal had erected a defensive hurdle in front of India for a good one hour and the home side needed a moment of inspiration to break free. It came in the 61st minute.
Mahesh made a run through the left flank and made a pass to Sahal, who pushed the ball back to the former around a Nepalese defender, setting him free.
With oodles of space to work with, Mahesh sent the ball to an unmarked Chhetri inside the box with a laser-guided cross and the Indian captain was never going to miss a simple tap past Nepal goalkeeper Kiran Limbu.
India's assistant coach Mahesh Gawli was effusive in his praise for the 24-year-old Mahesh.
I think Mahesh's cross was the turning point. He is an excellent talent and a future star for India. He is a quality player and very passionate about his game. I think he'll become a very good player in the future, said Gawli in the post-match press conference.
Before showing more purpose and precision in the second half, Sahal was banking on his dribbling skills to tear through Nepal defence without much avail.
Sahal drew the inevitable 'oohs and aahs' from the crowd when he evaded three markers with some brilliant close control. But he held on to the ball a touch longer to eventually lose he possession just outside the box, infuriating Gawli at the touchline.
Gawli said a half-time chat with the 26-year-old from Kerala prompted him to change the individualistic approach.
Sahal was instructed to release the ball sooner and not give it away so cheaply by dribbling excessively. He did exactly that in the second half, said the former India defender.
The transformation fructified in the 70th minute. Sahal won the ball from a Nepal defender to dash through the centre before passing the ball at the first opportunity to Chhetri.
Chhetri, for once, could not go past Limbu but Mahesh was in right position to head in a deflection off the Nepal custodian.
However, Sahal might rue the fact that he could have been on the scoresheet in the first half itself. It was also the fist time the Mahesh-Sahal combination looked threatening in the match.
Mahesh lobbed the ball into the box but Sahal could not find the target as his shot brushed past the side net in the 21st minute.
Sahal was aware that he should be able to get onto the scorer's list more often.
We need to start scoring goals not just with one player. I think every aspect has room for improvement, and mainly, I think I have to start contributing goals, Sahal had said.
India can look forward to Sahal and Mahesh to build on their effort in the final group match against Kuwait on Tuesday and, obviously, much beyond that too.

(Only the headline and picture of this report may have been reworked by the Business Standard staff; the rest of the content is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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First Published: Jun 25 2023 | 11:01 PM IST

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