The Blue Tigers came from behind to earn a well-deserved win..
India thrashed Puerto Rico 4-1 in an international friendly played at the Mumbai Football Arena in Mumbai earlier today. The hosts came from behind to seal the historic win thanks to goals from Narayan Das, Sunil Chhetri, Jeje Lalpekhlua and Jackichand Singh
India started with the familiar 4-4-1-1 formation with Pronay Halder playing the role of the enforcer in midfield while all-time leading goalscorer Sunil Chhetri lead the line. Meanwhile, the visitors made four changes from the team that lost 1-0 to the Dominican Republic. Goalkeeper Johny Santana along with defenders Elliot Velez and Emiliano Sanchez and midfielder Rivera were introduced into the team.
It was the visitors who started the better with captain Alexis Riviera producing the first cross into the box within the first minute. Their relentless pressure continued and they were rewarded when Elliot Velez was brought down in the box by Jackichand Singh. Emanuel Sanchez made no mistake from the spot to give his side the lead.
India’s first chance came on 14 minutes when Jeje got the ball in the middle and laid it off to Bikash Jairu. His cross from the left was only half cleared by Puerto Rico and it fell invitingly for Halder, but his shot was straight at the keeper. The host equalised three minutes later. Chhetri’s thunderous free-kick rattled of the post and with the keeper out of position Narayan Das was on hand to smash home. Continuing their growing dominance the Blue Tigers took the lead on 26 minutes after Chhetri curled in a beautiful free-kick into the top left corner. The hosts increased their advantage in the 34th minute following a wonderful team goal. Pritam Kotal picked out Chhetri with a pinpoint ball and the forward found Jeje Lalpekhlua unmarked at the far post. Jeje converted with a well-placed finish.
Before the Puerto Ricans could get to grips with the storm that had hit them the half-time whistle came and Stephen Constantine’s men were good value for their two-goal cushion at the break.
At the start of the second half the Indians set about keeping what they had and asked their jetlagged opponents to make all the running. India made two changes as Halder and Jairu came off for Holicharan Narzary and Rowlin Borges . Puerto Rico meanwhile brought on goalie Christopher Echevarria for Santana.
On 54 minutes substitute Mike Ramos produced a powerful run cutting through the Indian centre-backs, but his low shot was well saved by the Captain on the night Gurpreet Singh Sandhu at the near post. Four minutes later the hosts put the game to bed. From a throw-in Lalpekhlua delivered a first time cross that found Lyngdoh in the box. His attempted header was mishit but fell kindly for Jackichand who made no mistake to convert at the near post. Past the hour mark the fatigue factor was starting to kick in for the visitors and Sanchez’s effort on 68 minutes from all of 20 yards didn’t trouble the Indian skipper.
Then there were two quick chances at either end in quick succession. On 70 minutes Ramos and Sanchez exchanged a neat one-two in the box but the latter’s shot came back of the post with Sandhu well beaten. Straight down the other end Narzary released Passi in acres of space, but he took long to get his shot away and his eventual attempt was straight at the keeper. With the game meandering to the final whistle the youngster had another opportunity to get amongst the goals in the 84th minute. But, his turn and shot from distance was wayward to say the least.
Both sides used the final moments of the game to provide some exposure to their bench as the vociferous full house kept singing and cheering through to the final whistle.
With the Puerto Ricans ranked 114th, 38 places above them, this win will help the Indian Colts climb up the FIFA rankings. Moreover, it is a much needed morale booster ahead of the all-important AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers next year. The absence of key players, travelling and three games in less than a week caught up with Puerto Rioc as they were swept aside by the energetic hosts.
This was also the first international to be staged in the metropolis since 1955 and the locals filled out the new venue providing a great advert for more India games to be brought here going forward.
Report by Khel Now-Content Editor Mrunal Nakashe. A sports buff, he’s also a foreign policy enthusiast and keen North Korea watcher. Mrunal loves gaming, reading, traveling and is a self-confessed Football Manager addict. You can follow him on Twitter.