Hyderabad:India came from behind to hold defending champions Tajikistan 1-1 through an own goal by the central Asian team in the crucial Group A match of the AFC Challenge Cup football in Hyderabad on Friday.
Indian coach Bob Houghton made as many as six changes in the team that won the opening match against Afghanistan with great difficulty. Houghton also wanted to rest captain Bhaichung Bhutia, but had to bring the striker as substitute.
Obviously the plan was to keep the key players fresh for the match against Turkmenistan, but the plan almost got unstuck as the Indians were in danger of losing the Friday's game.
Trailing 0-1 at the interval, Houghton had no other option but to field his best player. And within three minutes of coming in, Bhutia brought in some luck as India found the equaliser through an own goal from Tajikistan goalkeeper Alisher Tuychiev.
The cross from Steven Dias was meant for Bhutia in the box, but the India captain was deceived by the flight and Tuychiev instead of clearing it slotted it into the goal to surrender the lead which Tajikistan took in the 11th minute from Yusuf Rabiev.
India hardly got any time to settle down and the defenders were caught unaware from a counterattack as Davrondzhon Tukhtasunov sneaked in from the right to set up Rabiev beautifully for the first goal.
After conceding the goal, India stepped up the attack and made some good moves but failed to carry them to their logical conclusion as they could have scored on as many as five occasions.
Forward Sushil Singh, who started in place of Bhutia, was listless while his partner Sunil Chettri found it difficult to get past the burly Tajik defenders.
The best opportunity for India in the early stages came to Chettri who chested down a long ball on the edge of the box and shot it wide. The JCT striker, who did not get much support from Sushil, fought relentlessly to draw parity.
After the breather, Houghton made his first tactical change replacing defender Mahesh Gawli with wing-back Surkumar Singh. The substitution worked as Surkumar raced up and down the flank to create some flutter in the Tajikistan ranks.
With time running out, Houghton brought in Bhutia in the 58th minute to a huge cheer. The 32-year-old Bhutia started showing his flair, which was absent in the first match.
India showed some urgency and the forwards kept on sneaking into the box in search of the elusive winner. With 16 minutes left, India made its last substitution by bringing in midfielder N.P.Pradeep in place of defender Baldeep Singh.
The hosts went all out in the last five minutes and also had some anxious moments, but in the end they were lucky to leave the field splitting points.
India: Subrata Paul (goalkeeper); Sameer Naik, Anwar Ali, Mahesh Gawli (Surkumar Singh,46), Gourmangi Singh, Baldeep Singh (N.P. Pradeep,74); Clifford Miranda Climax Lawrence, Steven Dias; Sushil Singh (Bhaichung Bhutia,58), Sunil Chettri
Tajikistan: Alisher Tuychiev (goalkeeper); Dalerdzhon Tukhtasunov, Davronjon Ergashev, Zafardhzon Zuvaydov, Eradhz Radzhabov; Anvar Norkulov, Samad Shohzukhrov (Sohib Savankulov,67), Fakhtullo Fatkhloev (Dzhomikhon Muhidinov, 74), Yusuf Rabiev, Numondzhon Khakimov (Dzhakongir Dzhalilov, 86), Davrondzhon Tukhtasunov
Referee: Tayeb Hassan Shamsuzzaman (Bangladesh)