Balwant Singh brace moves India closer to 2019 AFC Asian Cup
Written by: Mrunal Nakashe
The Blue Tigers have now made it an emphatic eleven games unbeaten (including the unofficial game against Bhutan) and remain in pole position to make it to UAE 2019.
India boss Stephen Constantine started with the same XI that earned a hard fought win against the Kyrgyz Republic at home last time out, maintaining India’s perfect record in the group. The Bengaluru FC pair of Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and captain Sunil Chhetri returned after being absent during the Blue Tigers’ last two international outings in the just-concluded Tri-Nations Series.
After some early sparring from both teams, it was the visitors who created the first flurry of chances. Nine minutes into the game, a Pritam Kotal cross from the right had defender Lei Ka Him in some discomfort before he eventually managed to clear his lines. Just a minute later, the impressive Rowlin Borges found Chhetri in space in midfield. But, Udanta Singh couldn’t connect with the skipper’s lobbed pass in the box.
Two minutes down the line another delivery sought out Jeje Lalpekhlua, but the striker failed to connect with an attempted header as the keeper gathered. On 19 minutes, Narayan Das and Lalpekhlua combined nicely from a throw-in to find Chhetri who’s shot from distance bounced off a wall of green.
Although India remained in the ascendency, they had to wait until just before the half hour mark for their first clear chance. But, Chhetri saw his shot from distance rattle off the far post. Soon after the hosts wasted a free-kick in a good position as Choi’s woeful delivery was easy pickings for Sandhu. On 31 minutes, the energetic Holicharan Narzary showed some nifty footwork to outfox his marker, before unleashing a left-footed shot straight at the keeper.
On 39 minutes, the whole stadium held its breath as Eugeneson Lyngdoh’s shot from midfield thundered off the crossbar. Three minutes later, Narzary released Chhetri down the right but the skipper could not place the ball into the back of the net. Just before half-time, Lalpekhlua’s bad evening got worse as he failed to latch on to another ball in the box.
Going into the break, the visitors had reason to bemoan the lack of a lead while the hosts were just grateful for the game still being 0-0.
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Both teams made a change each at the start of the second half. Balwant Singh replaced Lyngdoh for India, while Pang Chi Hang was replaced by Leong Ka Hang for the Greens. The visitors started the second 45 as they finished the first. On 52 minutes, Kotal found Chhetri with a cross from the right, but the skipper’s header rebounded straight into the keeper’s grasp. The Blue Tigers were getting closer and finally broke the deadlock three minutes before the hour mark as Das picked out substitute Balwant who finished calmly giving his team a deserved lead. Six
Six minutes later, Kotal, who was having a fine game marauded down the right and his shot from distance had the keeper scrambling. Just before that, Kotal and Balwant had combined with the striker heading wide off the full-back’s cross.
With no sign of Macau either being willing or able to challenge their dominance, India continued to play a high line in search of a second goal with Balwant missing two more chances from headers off sublime crosses. A second goal looked to be coming and it did, on 83 minutes. A long ball forward from Sandhu led to chaos in the Macau back four, allowing Balwant to profit and he duly obliged to complete a majestic brace.
The comfortable win, as it turned out to be, sees the Blue Tigers hasten their qualification to the main event in the United Arab Emirates in 2019 as they remain primed on top of the group with three wins from three games and a perfect nine points.
Speaking after his team's third successive win in qualifying Constantine was satisfied with the important three points. Congratulations on the victory. It was very difficult to break down their defence. It is a very valuable win for us. And we stay on top of Group A with 9 points,'' he said.
“It was very hard to break them down as they were defending with 8 or 9 men. So we are happy with the 2-0 victory.'' Constantine mentioned.
Constantine's boys have now remained unbeaten in eleven games on the trot since the AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers Playoff Round 1 match against Laos on June 2, 2016.
Stephen was also happy with Balwant’s effectiveness after he came on as a substitute to score the winning goals.
“Balwant scored two goals tonight. He did what he was asked to do. He could have scored four but I will take two,” stated Constantine.
India are scheduled to face the same opponents on October 10 in the return fixture in India.
The manager reserved special praise for substitute Balwant whose brace helped the Blue Tihgers to a second straight away win on the road to the UAE. “Balwant scored two goals tonight. He did what he was asked to do. He could have scored four but I will take two."
Published: Wed Sep 06, 2017 01:41 PM IST