Mumbai: A brace from Sunil Chhetri and Jeje Lalpekhlua strike was enough as India strengthened their position at the numero uno spot of the 2018 Hero Intercontinental Cup table with a convincing victory over Kenya.
Action started in dramatic fashion as rain ascended down the Mumbai Football Arena on Tuesday with the 10000-odd capacity stadium going sold out for the evening. Sunil Chhetri was the cynosure of all eyes, with the India skipper marking his 100th cap. However, the first half belonged to the visitors who made most of the unfavourable conditions.
Kenya started on a good note, stretching play to the channels through short passing exchanges from the middle as the downpour continued. The hosts, on the other hand, failing to get going with the same momentum as they ploy of direct play to the forwards failed to pay any dividends.
Furthermore, puddles in the middle of the park resulted in sluggish play with both sides opting to play aerially and indulging in heated duels. The lanky and brawny centre-back pairing of Jockins Atudo and Timothy Omwenga thwarted all danger from the diminutive pair of Chhetri and Jeje Lalpekhlua as the Blue Tigers lacked cutting edge in the final third.
Chhetri could have broken the deadlock in the 21st minute after an unforced error from the opposition saw the ball fall at his feat. In a hurry, he responded with an audacious lob over the keeper which brushed over the roof of the net.
A minute later Patilah Omoto, who caused havoc on the flank with his lung-busting runs on the right, shot from an acute angle forcing Gurpreet Singh Sandhu to make a fine save.
Narzary whipped a delicious cross from the right with an Chhetri waiting to pounce inside the box. The ball landed right at his feet but the Bengaluru FC forward failed to pull the trigger.
The hosts rightly changed gears as Udanta Singh and Nazary added firepower through the flanks and the efforts finally bore fruit.
Just after the hour mark, India broke on the counter and Pritam Kotal spanked a cross from the right. Chhetri chested the ball in the penalty box on the first attempt before he was impeded by Michael Kabwage, resulting in a penalty. With all the showlight on him, the skipper made no mistake as he struck a fierce shot to the right to give India the lead.
Sebastien Migne’s side were caught napping and were made to pay the price. Narzary effort from the left struck a opposition defender, eventually making its way towards Jeje. The Mizo Sniper unleashed a belter, leaving the keeper with no chance to double the lead.
As the Blue Tigers began to tighten up the screws, Sandesh Jhingan endured a knock, leaving the defender aching and clutching his right ankle. Narayan Das was brought on for the lanky centre-back as Stephen Constantine enforced his first change.
Chhetri, who earlier made a heartfelt plea to fans, requesting them for their support, paid the spectators with peach of the goal, bringing up his second of the night.
The forward collected the ball and flashed at Matasi with blazing pace, before baffling the keeper with a cheeky dink over the head, to put the game to bed.
India next face New Zealand on Thursday....