Pradyumna Tembhekar/Khel Now
Comment: Centurion Chhetri inspires again as resilient India find way to win in trying conditions
Written by: Uttiyo Sarkar
Against the combative Harambee Stars and the elements, the Blue Tigers produced a gritty display which should stand them in good stead.
India weathered the storm to continue their impressive form in the Intercontinental Cup by thrashing Kenya 3-0 at a jam-packed Mumbai Football Arena on a wet Monday evening. The conditions were testing, thanks to the infamous Mumbai rains and which proved to be an absolute nuisance in the first half.
It was the occasion of captain Sunil Chhetri's 100th international appearance and many fans flocked to watch their captain soar. Team India refused to give in to the weather and sustained themselves as well as pirates in the midst of a storm in the Atlantic Ocean. Kenya though didn't make it easy, as their physical prowess and impressive ability to sit deep to defend made sure that India had to dig really deep to get anything out of the day.
Behind the scenes: India 3-0 Kenya
While the fireworks would only start in the second half, the defensive display in the first was proof of how rock-solid the current back four is. Goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu was hardly tested in the match, but that doesn't mean that Kenya didn't threaten the Blue Tigers enough. Their powerful strikers and tricky wingers were quite menacing for the defence. However, instead of playing cautiously, the Indian defence took the game by the scruff of the neck and refused to let go.
.@chetrisunil11 came up with a double on a special night for the @IndianFootball team skipper, that saw the Blue Tigers run away with the win over Kenya!#BackTheBlue #INDvKEN #Chhetri100 pic.twitter.com/PzXEN1njzE— Indian Super League (@IndSuperLeague) June 4, 2018
The central defensive partnership of Sandesh Jhingan and Anas Edathodika was absolutely unbreachable on the day and the towering Kenyan striker Pistone Mutamba was quite ineffective because of them. Jhingan, who was later adjudged the Hero of the Match, was especially brilliant and seemed pumped up for the occasion. He dug in deep against the Kenya attackers and broke several attempts, while also covering for Anas Edathodika, who struggled at times due to the conditions. Jhingan displayed immaculate concentration and acrobatic ability to thwart a lot of balls that were attempted over the top.
Subhashish Bose was another standout performer for the Indian team as he showed his aggressive side and laid into the Kenyans with some crunching challenges. Not only that, but his positional sense and ability to maintain concentration in the rainy conditions was impressive. The fact that Stephen Constantine later moved him to centre-back after Jhingan was substituted proved how much of a trusted individual Bose has become and it looks like he's made the left-back position his own for now.
Elsewhere, his Bengali parallel Pronay Halder was yet again the anchor in midfield for India and didn't let the absence of Eugeneson Lyngdoh affect. Halder was very efficient in midfield, where he broke up play incessantly and regained the ball for the Blue Tigers. Moreover, his impressive ability to turn defence into attack is an asset for the national team and Halder has definitely won over Constantine's confidence with his outings in the Intercontinental Cup.
Watch: Sunil Chhetri score a wonder goal against Kenya on Monday night
On the flip side, Anirudh Thapa looked a little subdued in the first half due to the overwhelming conditions, but recovered decently in the second. He controlled the game when the weather cleared up later and proved to be the quintessential link between midfield and attack for the national side.
But, the deciding factor for team India was once again the superb chemistry between Jeje Lalpekhlua and Chhetri upfront. The duo suit each other perfectly and are able to work in tandem in spite of their different styles of play. While Chhetri provides all the legs in attack and makes the vital runs in the final third, his partner is more of a holding up forward who doubles up as a complete finisher.
The Mizo Sniper stayed true to his reputation once again by scoring a spectacular attempt out of nowhere, which showed how clinical he is in front of goal. Despite being almost non-existent earlier on, the link-up play between Chhetri and Jeje was excellent yet again and something nobody has been able to properly decipher so far. Chhetri himself proved to have the enthusiasm of a 23-year-old despite being in his 30s with a highly energetic performance and the rain seemed to give him even more drive.
Captain Fantastic didn't let the poor outfield and difficult conditions get to him and showed an immense energy level throughout the game. While his opening goal was a questionable penalty, he silenced doubters with a scintillating finish to complete his brace and showcased that he's still at the height of his powers. It's been his leadership which has taken India so far in the past few years and the amount of motivation he can instil into the team thanks to his passionate performances is second to none.
While the starting XI got all the praise in the end, the substitutes also made their mark, especially Balwant Singh, who was excellent in his short cameo. The Mumbai City striker replaced Jeje and blended in perfectly, providing a clever assist for Chhetri's second goal. His creative side was on display on Monday and his impressive outing makes him a contender for a start in the next game.
What seemed to inspire such a resounding team effort were the fans, who made their voices heard throughout the game. The Mumbaikars didn't let the rains faze them as they all cheered on the Blue Tigers till the very end. Their support was felt in the game too, as India, who showed great cohesion and unity as a team, proved that as long as the support of the fans is with them, the Blue Tigers will keep roaring.
Published: Tue Jun 05, 2018 07:34 PM IST