Mumbai: India buried five goals past a hapless Chinese Taipei side in the opener of the 2018 Hero Intercontinental Cup at the Mumbai Football Arena here on Saturday. A perfect hat-trick from Sunil Chhetri coupled with strikes from Udanta Singh and Pranoy Halder saw the hosts start their campaign in fine fashion.
India coach Stephan Constantine did announce he would play a full strength team but made a few changes to his starting eleven. Pranoy Halder was back in the reckoning after a long break starring alongside youngster Anirudh Thapa. Subhashish Bhose replaced Narayan Das in the left-back position.
The hosts started in a strong note, constantly launching attacks from the back through Sandesh Jhinghan. And given the way they pushed their opponents on the backfoot, Sunil Chhetri came close to giving India the lead only to miss two chances by a whisker.
The skipper finally broke the deadlock in the 12th minute after Jeje Lalpekhlua found him free in the box before he beat Wen-Chieh Pan to tuck it into the net.
The Blue Tigers continued to pile the pressure as the pacy duo of Udanta Singh and Holicharan Narzary caused multiple problems to the full-backs down the wings. While Halder was assigned to defensive duties in the middle of the park, he was fully aided by Thapa who pulled the strings and ensured fluidity in attack.
In the 34th minute, the Chennaiyin FC midfielder combined well with Jeje who once again turned provider as India doubled the lead through Chhetri. In a crowded box, the striker scored from an acute angle, presenting no chance to the man in between the sticks.
While eyes were on Crystal Palace’s attacking prospect Will Donkin, the youngster couldn’t contribute much as the visitors found it tough to win back possession.
The hosts had something more in store after the half-time break. Udanta Singh joined the party shortly after he found ample of space on the right, making a mockery of his marker Wei Chuan-Chen before beating the keeper with an elegant finish off his stronger foot.
Stephan Constantine also handed FC Pune City winger Ashique Kuruniyan his national debut, with the Kerala youngster replacing Narzary.
Chhetri completed the treble after the hour mark with some smart piece of business from Jeje and Thapa to make it 4-0 for the night. Thapa drew a through ball for the Bengaluru FC forward as he made no mistake with a top corner finish.
Halder, who was engaged in the dirty work for most of the night, marked his return in style in the 78th minute with a peach of a curler from outside the box....