Nepal and India played a 1-1 draw in the first of the twomatch international friendly series here at the Dasharath Stadium today.

Anjan Bista put the home team ahead in the first half, while Anirudh Thapa replied for India in the latter half as the two sides played their fifth draw in 20 meetings. In their previous 19 meetings, India had the upper hand with 13 wins, while Nepal had recorded two victories against the neighbouring nation. The two teams will now play the second and final match of the series three days later at the same venue.

Bista put Nepal ahead in the 36th minute capitalising on a misunderstanding between India goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and defender Chinglensana Singh Konsham.

Bista was quick enough to meet Konsham's pass intended towards his keeper Sandhu and the midfielder rounded up the advancing Indian custodian before firing into an empty post.

The home team came close to doubling the tally in the first half injury time but this time Sandhu rescued his side with a fine save to deny Suman Aryal, who made an attempt from outside the penalty box. India made four changes in the second half and displayed an improved show putting pressure on the home team. Nepal skipper and goalkeeper Kiran Kumar Limbu was forced to come out of his area in the 51st minute and he received a yellow card for handling the ball outside the box. Anirudh Thapa had the ball on target in the resulting free kick but custodian Limbu collected the ball without any difficulty.

The relentless efforts from the visiting side paid off in the 60th minute when Anirudh Thapa put the ball inside the post from close range after Nepal goalkeeper and skipper Kiran Kumar Limbu made a brilliant save to block a stunning shot from his Indian counterpart Sunil Chhetry.

The Indian skipper controlled the ball with his chest and made a quick turn to fire a stunning shot but Limbu was equally brilliant to stop the ball but he was not able to punch the ball away and Thapa buried it into the nets to level the scores.

Bishal Rai had a chance inside the box in the 79th minute but he could not trouble the Indian goalkeeper, while India's Rahim Ali shot wide off the post nine minutes later.

Manish Dangi almost sealed the victory for the home side in the injury time but his header on a cross from Suman Aryal went inches wide.

With his 73rd match with the national team, Nepal skipper Limbu equalled the record held by former captain Biraj Maharjan, while midfielder Nitin Thapa made his national team debut when he replaced Tej Tamang in the 85th minute.

India coach Igor Stimac criticised the pitch for his side's below par performance. "It was an exciting match but was not easy to play as the pitch was not in the best condition.

It's not easy to play good quality football under such conditions," said Stimac at the postmatch conference. "And we also conceded a silly goal," he added.

Nepal coach Abdullah Almutairi apologised to fans and said the team should have scored three-four goals. "We did not play good football for the first 45 minutes and I had to make four changes in the second half," said Almutairi.

"The players should have scored three-four goals but they relied on bad pitch, tight defense and counter attack," he added.

Almutairi said the team needed to fix the problem in coming matches and the players needed to improve a lot for the SAFF Championship slated for October in Maldives.

"I am proud of my boys but we need to fix our problems.

And we also have to improve our game for the SAFF Championship as this performance will not work in Maldives," he added. Asked about the mistakes of the players and areas to improve, Almutairi said he would not reveal his strategies and come up with an improved show in the SAFF Championship.

Along with Nepal and India, three other teams - Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Maldives - will take part in the 13th edition of the SAFF Championship scheduled for October 1-16.

A version of this article appears in the print on September 3 2021, of The Himalayan Times.