The Indian Football team led by a talismanic striker Sunil Chhetri opened their AFC Asian Cup campaign by trashing Thailand 4-1. Striker Sunil Chhetri scored the first two goals before Anirudh Thapa opened his account for India and Jeje Lalpekhlua put the game beyond Thailand.
This victory means India won its first Asia Cup game in 55 years.
After the victory, which is also the highest margin by India in the AFC Asia Cup, Sunil Chettri tweeted:
Considering the bigger picture, this is a good but small start. But I'll talk about just this game - it was bloody brilliant to be a part of the way my team went about things. And it's even more special knowing we made a country happy, even if it is only for a day.🙏🙏— Sunil Chhetri (@chetrisunil11) January 6, 2019
Returning to the continental competition in Asia after eight years, the Indian team showed their strong defensive performance along with ruthless attacking on the break. Coach Stephan Constantine selected his solid defensive duo of Sandesh Jhingan and Subhasish Bose in front of captain and goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu.
The midfield consisted of winger Udanta Singh, Pronay Halder, Halicharan Narzary and 20-year old Anirudh Thapa. Sunil Chettri led the attack with Ashique Kuruniyan, who was opted ahead of Jeje.
Sunil Chettri opened the scoring from the spot on the 27 minutes after Kuruniyan’s shot was saved from the keeper and rebounded onto the defender's arm. Thailand, which controlled the game with over 60 per cent of the possession equalised on the 33 minute through Teerasil Dangda.
Sunil Chettri then put India back into the lead after a low cross from Udanta Singh, ill-controlled by Kuruniyan, reached Chettri, who blasted the ball into the top corner. With the strike, the Chettri went past Argentine Lionel Messi in the active international goalscorers list.
Anirudh Thapa, displayed a calm and composed finishing as he lobbed the ball over the onrushing goalkeeper and two defenders on the line to score his first goal for India. Jeje Lalpekhlua came as a substitute, and two minutes later, toe-poked the ball from just outside the area to end his goal-scoring drought.
After an early scare, which led to a close-range save from Gurpreet Singh and the equaliser, Thailand was unable to get past the Indian defence. The victory over Thailand will give the Blue Tigers much needed confidence as they face hosts UAE in the next game on 10 January.