Kuwait City: Putting up a spirited performance, the Indian under-16 football team rallied to hold Tajikistan to a 1-1 draw in its opening match of the AFC Qualifiers at the Ali Sabah Al-Salem Stadium here.
Prosenjit Chakraborty converted from the spot in the 56th minute after Saidov Karomatullo had put Tajikistan in the lead in the 36th minute. Represented by All India Football Federation's Regional Academy boys, the Indian colts took some time to settle down.
Analysing the performance, head coach Goutam Ghosh said, "Our boys can play better. We played very well in the second half and created a lot of opportunities from which we could score. But this was our first match and we will try to rectify on our mistakes."
It was the first match of the AFC Championship and the first International match for the Indians but they were not overawed by the occasion.
Post the Tajikistan goal which was pushed in by Saidov off a melee following a corner, it was all India in the remaining part of the first half and the first 25 minutes of the second half.
But Tajikistan managed to hold on as rival Goalkeeper Khayriev Behruz's reflexes came in the way of an India win.
The turnaround started from the 37th minute. India's sudden burst unsettled the sturdy Tajik boys, who till the 36th minute looked more in control than the Indians.
In the 44th minute, Anirudh Thapa's touch off a Jerry Lalrinzuala free-kick hit the post and went wide. A series of corners followed but the ball wasn't just destined to go in.
It was the right impetus which India needed prior to the interval.
And when they took the field in the second half, the colts began with a bang. Krishna Pandit replaced Kapil Hoble and in the very first minute, Muchahary's shot was saved by a diving Khayriev.
India kept up the pressure and almost equalised in the 47th minute but this time, a Dependra Negi header off a Jerry Lalrinzuala corner was again denied by an alert Khayriev.
The equaliser seemed inevitable and it eventually came in the 56th minute. Nijwm sidestepped Azimov Abubark only to be brought down by the latter inside the box. Prosenjit gleefully converted from the spot.
India should have gained the lead in the 67th minute when Prosenjit lobbed it over Khayriev who was out of position. But it missed by a whisker.
Bodo, who was introduced in place of Negi, was by then combining well with Nijwm on the right flank much to the frustration of Tajikistan. In the 77th minute, Mirzoev was yellow carded for bringing down Kharlukhi Kyntiewshaphrang.
In the 81st minute, Tajikistan had another close shave when Anirudh's shot was saved at the right moment by rival captain Safarov Alisher inside the box.
However, Tajikistan were off the blocks faster in the first half and had seized the initiative early. Despite the possession, nevertheless, they were not able to break free.
The two central defenders, along with the two wing-backs, kept them at bay. The early thrust did earn Tajikistan a few corners but they weren't able to leave a mark.
As the game progressed, India regrouped. They stressed on keeping possession and switched it from one flank to the other. And once they lost the ball, they managed to hold their rivals only to snatch it back.
In the 24th minute, Nijwm Muchahary played a quick one-two with Bedashwor Laishram but the latter's shot deflected off rival Captain Saidov Karomatullo.
Tajikistan's goal came in the 26th minute when Saidov tapped it in between a jungle of legs following a corner down the far end. Uzaqov Khudoydod and Tolibov Rustam, with their interchanging, did keep the Indian defence busy and at times looked threatening. But the Indian defenders, all below 15, recovered fast to deny them.