The Indian national team delivered yet another commanding performance in the second half, allowing them to advance to the semi-finals of the 2023 SAFF Championship with a game to spare. Two goals in quick succession from Sunil Chhetri and Naorem Mahesh Singh propelled the Blue Tigers to a comfortable 2-0 victory over Nepal at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru.

India continued their rotation policy, making as many as eight changes to the team that triumphed over Pakistan 4-0 in the opening match of the SAFF Championship. Only Sunil Chhetri, Anirudh Thapa, and Sahal Abdul Samad retained their places in the first XI.

The Blue Tigers started the game strongly, asserting their control over possession right from the start. The first real opportunity came in favour of India in the 15th minute when full-back Akash Mishra made an overlapping run and delivered a square pass to Sahal Abdul Samad. However, Sahal's shot went wide as he failed to make the most of the chance.

Moments later, Nepal also had their first significant chance from a corner. Mehtab Singh attempted to head the ball away from the goal, but his clearance fell directly to Bista, who unleashed a powerful right-footed volley from the edge of the box. Nonetheless, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu remained alert and skillfully dove in time to deny Nepal any advantage.

The Gorkhalis quickly attempted to assert control over the game with their aggressive attacking approach, but they were unable to trouble Gurpreet in goal. In the 41st minute, Udanta Singh embarked on a marauding run down the right flank, delivering a delightful cross. However, Samad was unable to make contact with his head, resulting in the two sides heading into the tunnel with the scores level.

The second half witnessed a sense of urgency from both teams, but it was the Blue Tigers who applied more pressure in search of the opening goal. Around the hour mark, Mahesh Singh executed a beautiful one-two with Sahal, followed by a precise low cross towards Chhetri at the far post. The Indian skipper calmly slotted it home, putting India in the lead and notching up his 91st goal in national colours.

Buoyed by the breakthrough, the Blue Tigers intensified their attacking prowess. In the 70th minute, the trio of Samad, Chhetri, and Mahesh combined once again to extend their lead. Samad embarked on an impressive run from the centre circle, setting up Chhetri, who skillfully evaded a defender before launching a shot. The deflected effort struck the framework of the goal, only for winger Mahesh Singh to be perfectly positioned to convert it into his first international goal.

India continued to make a couple of attacking moves, with substitute Lallianzuala Chhangte coming close to securing the third goal for his side. However, his efforts were parried away for a corner by Nepal's goalkeeper Kiran Limbu.
With Gurpreet having a relatively untroubled second half, India maintained their defensive solidity and extended their clean sheet record to eight consecutive matches.

In the opening fixture of the day, Kuwait secured a comprehensive 4-0 victory over Pakistan to go on top of Group A, by virtue of more goals scored. India will take on Kuwait in the final game of the group stage on Tuesday while Nepal will square off with Pakistan to play for pride.