The Blue Tigers’ skipper once again scored the decisive goal late in the second half to fire India to their eighth successive victory. . .
Sunil Chhetri was the hero of the day as his fine run and the subsequent goal was the difference in a well-contested game at the Sri Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru against the Kyrgyz Republic as part of the AFC Asian Cup qualifiers. The 32-year old’s goal just at the hour mark was representative of the team’s performance throughout the match, full of effort and determination.
Alexander Krestinin backed up his claim in the pre-match press conference that his team were the favourites by selecting a highly attacking team in a 3-4-3 setup. Captain Murzaev Mirlan was played in a left inside forward role playing just behind striker Lux Vitalij.
Constantine welcomed back Sunil Chhetri into the team and set his team up in a 4-2-3-1 with Rowlin Borges partnering Holicharan Narzary with Eugeneson Lyngdoh playing behind the front 3 of Sunil Chhetri, Jeje Lalpekhlua and Jackichand Singh.
The visitors were dealt an early setback when their top scorer Zemlianukhin Anton had to be hauled off when he was injured in a collision with Gurpreet Singh Sandhu. Krestinin’s team spelt out their intentions very early with Vitalij finding space regularly in the edge of the penalty box and it was his shot that told Gurpreet that he was in for a busy night.
Watch Sunil Chhetri’s fantastic goal as the captain scores yet again in the Blue Tigers’ jersey
The 3-4-3 formation saw the wide men finding space far too easily for Constantine’s liking and Mirlan had the beating of India full back Pritam Kotal. Constantine had enough and switched to a flat 4-4-2 with Chhetri and Jeje playing on top with Narzary moving to a wide left position. The change worked as the home team were suddenly started seeing more of the ball and started getting in behind the opposition backline a lot more frequently.
Chhetri, especially, was in the thick of things as his move to the centre saw him release Jackichand on two occasions but the result was not in favour of the home team. However, India had the upper hand as they were crunching into tackles in midfield and began working custodian Matiash Pavel.
Sunil Chhetri termed this as ‘by far the best performance by the Indian Team’ in a long time. Click here to read Indian Captain and Coach thoughts from Post Match Conference
The game’s best chance came in the 30th minute as Narzary’s smart tackle released the ball to Chhetri who squared to Jeje who passed it wide to no one in particular when the shot on goal was the better option.
Full Match Highlights : India 1-0 Kyrgyzstan
Krestinin was visibly livid with his team’s sudden change in fortune and tried to inspire his team forward but the home side clearly had things under control and were backed with a very vocal crowd. However, they did fashion a great chance in first half stoppage time when the India defence failed to clear their lines well and saw a Kyrgyz player take a snap shot which was well saved by Gurpreet.
India had a good start to the second half as Jeje’s shot was well saved by Pavel. Krestinin moved to a back 4 and India found it hard to find space like in the first half.
The visitors nearly thought they had the lead when Isarilov’s powerful shot outside the 18 yard box crashed against the woodwork with Gurpreet clearly beaten.
The game began to open up as Chhetri ran in behind the Kyrgyz defence but was crowded out for a corner. The resulting corner saw the ball being cleared but was arrowed back into the box by Narzary onto the feet of Jeje who freed up Chhetri, but the skipper couldn’t keep his shot down and the chance went begging.
Constantine decided to change things up and brought on Mohammed Rafique for Rowlin Borges in a bid to add more guile to the midfield.
2019 AFC Asian Cup Group A standing
The game needed a magic moment and it came from Captain Fantastic himself as he went on a fine solo run where he jinxed past 3 Kyrgyz players and laid it off to Jeje on the right who chipped it over the Kyrgyz centre half for an on rushing Chhetri to finish on the volley past Pavel to send the stadium into delirium.
Constantine knew his team needed to consolidate and not be vulnerable to expected opposition pressure and he acted immediately by bringing on Bikash Jairu for Jackichand Singh. Jairu’s pace on the left hand side offered protection against the threat of the attacking Viktor Maier.
The India gaffer decided to go for the kill by bringing Robin Singh, a player very familiar with Bengaluru, for Jeje. The East Bengal man had a quiet outing in the pitch but missed a glorious chance to finish the game for the home side when he was put clean through on goal by the captain but his shot had too much power and sailed over the bar.
Chhetri missed a chance for a late second when he had the goal at his mercy but blasted his shot over the bar.
It mattered little though as Stephen Constantine’s team held on for a 8th straight win in as many games under the Briton.