Indian football team displayed commendable defensive performance to hold China to a goalless draw in an international football friendly in Suzhou on Saturday.
For the most stages of the game, India were defending a wave of Chinese attacks, but goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh was at the top of his game, as India kept the Red Dragons at bay.
Chinese forwards’ goal drought continued while the Indians, especially the back-four of captain Sandesh Jhingan, Narayan Das, Pritam Kotal and Subhasish Bose, played their hearts out to held their nerves till the end.
The home side had at least three clear chances with two being denied by the woodwork while their star striker Gao Lin failed to find the target several times. Custodian Gurpreet Singh Sandhu stood like a rock in front of the Indian goal as he denied the home side at least on four occasions.
It was a remarkable achievement for India as they have drawn against a continental top side like China in their own den. India were playing on the Chinese soil for the first time and there were periods in the match, though few and far between when the visitors threatened on the counters.
India had two very good chances on either side of the breather, one from Pritam Kotal and another from substitute Farukh Choudhary, and a couple of half chances.
The draw is also expected to take India higher in the FIFA rankings. They are now placed 97th while China are at 76th spot.
On the other hand, China, coached by 2006 World Cup-winning Italian coach Marcello Lippi, continued their recent struggle as they failed to score in three matches on the trot.
China had lost to an inexperienced Qatar team 0-1 last month before playing out a 0-0 draw against Bahrain. They have not scored since beating Thailand 2-0 in June.
India head coach Stephen Constantine had predicted an attacking-minded Chinese team and that precisely turned out as the home side made a wave of attacks in the first session.
But the visitors did not give an inch to the Chinese attackers who has played more than 100 international matches, for most part while goalie Gurpreet made a few fine saves.
In the seventh minute itself, the Indian goal was under threat but Jinghan made a timely clearance for a corner following Yu Dabao’s shot.
The Indians grew in confidence as the match wore on and they even had a very good chance in the 13th minute when Sunil Chhetri passed the ball back to Pranoy Halder who went diagonal to Anirudh Thapa who, in turn, laid it for an onrushing Kotal.
But Kotal’s right footer from the right side of the box was parried away by Chinese goalie Yan Junling. That was the best chance India had in the first half.
Two minutes later, Gao had a free header from a corner but the ball went directly to Gurpreet’s hands.
India got a free kick in the 17th minute and Thapa’s delivery found an unmarked Chhetri making a first time shot but the ball sailed over.
Meanwhile, halfway through the first half, Gurpreet again pulled off a fine save as he blocked a low shot from Gao after a defensive mistake by the Indians.
As soon as the second half began, Gao rattled Gurpreet’s crossbar in the 48th minute but a few minutes later Udanta Singh was set up by Holicharan Narzary but the Manipuri shot over the crossbar in a hurry.
The 71st minute also saw the Indian crossbar being rattled by a Wu Lei volley and it was pure luck for India as Gurpreet was completely beaten that time.
Five minutes later, Gurpreet again pulled off another fine save to deny a Xiao Zhi header from a corner.
Towards the end of the regulation time, there was a scramble near the Indian goal-line but the visiting side, who desperately threw their bodies towards the close of the match, survived as the match ended in a stalemate.
Before Saturday, India and China had played 17 times with the last one being in 1997 in Kochi. China had won 12 times while the remaining five were drawn matches.