Male:Captain Baichung Bhutia scored with a spectacular bicycle kick to inspire India to a perfect start with a 4-0 thumping of Nepal in the SAFF Championship opener at Maldives National Stadium in Male on Tuesday.
After N P Pradeep had put defending champions ahead in the 26th minute, Bhutia chested down a Climax Lawrence header with his back towards the Nepal goal before firing a back-volley to double his side's lead in the 34th minute.
Sunil Chetri took the game away from Nepal's reach with a no less brilliant diving header in the 68th minute before substitute Sushil Kumar Singh rounded off the tally in the 83rd minute.
India, however, had to play the last 15 minutes of the game with 10 men after defender N S Manju, whose selection for the tourney was doubtful due to an injury, had to leave the field after suffering a hamstring pull and they had made all the three substitutions by then.
India took time to settle down in the rain-soaked match but once they found their grooves, the Nepalese, coached by German Thomas Flath, were simply outclassed.
It was Nepal who set the pace of the game initially with some threatening moves inside the Indian box though they could not give any serious problem to Indian back four of Mahesh Gawli, Gouramangi Singh, Deepak Mondal and N S Manju.
Nepal striker Jumanu Rai missed a golden opportunity in the 24th minute and his left footer from inside the box, after beating two Indian defenders, went wide off the target.
But, the Indian forwards could not be not kept at bay for long and they took the lead just after the 25th minute mark with N P Pradeep jumping over his Nepalese marker to connect a Steven Dias' free kick resulted after Nepal defender Parbat Pandey made a dangerous tackle on Dias.