The Blue Tigers had to work harder than expected to beat the African visitors in the first match of the tri-nations series…
India entered the match with an almost full strength line up as Stephen Constantine looked to give game time to his players who haven’t been in action for some time. Mauritius fielded a side who initially looked to be punching way above their weight but as the match went on they gave quite a few headaches to the Indians.
From the word go Mauritius tried to unsettle India as is the style of play adopted by manager Francisco Filho, their coach, from his Manchester United days. Captain Kevin Bru and Joseph Kevin their No. 11 were menacing and held nothing back giving Pritam Kotal and Sandesh Jhingan a run for their money. Their attack continually tested the defence till in the 16th minute Jocelyn scored the first goal to send shockwaves of disappointment throughout the stadium.
Watch highlights as India come from behind to beat Mauritius
India was playing a 4-1-3-2 with Subrata Paul back in goal after his exile which was imposed by the talented giant, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu who is busy with AFC Cup commitments along with talisman Sunil Chhetri. A settled defence of Anas Edathodika and Jhingan was selected along with Kotal and Narayan Das on full-back duty. A strong Rowlin Borges who showed why he was selected, manned the defensive midfield which freed up Eugenson Lyngdoh to dictate play. Holicharan Nazary and Jackichand Singh were blazing the flanks and providing crosses to Robin Singh and Jeje Lalpekhlua who led the line. Robin looked like a man on a mission with a renewed vigour and hungry to prove a point.
This made Constantine who was already animated to get much louder and he at one time even matched the volume of the Mumbai fans who were unequivocally supporting India and urging the players to score. The Indian team did push harder and this resulted in Robin drawing a foul 25 yards from the goal. Das provided a beautiful free-kick which reached captain for the night, Jhingan only for him to miss it from close range. The Indian attack didn’t die down after this and even though possession was dominated by Mauritius, India were continually moving forward.
Before this match Robin was under fire from all quarters, ranging from fans to the press. But this was his night to shine when he placed a well weighted ball provided by Borges into the back of the net in the 37th minute as the entire stadium held its breath. His celebration was also modest as he kissed the ground and then still kneeling pointed to the sky and saluted the fans for cheering him. He worked relentlessly through to half-time in what was a excellent first half for him.
After the break the Indian tactician made two substitution at either end of the pitch. Paul came off for the Mumbai City FC custodian, Amrinder Singh and his club mate Balwant Singh replaced the goal-scorer Robin. The gameplay wasn’t any different as Mauritius again pushed India on the backfoot and pressurised the defence. But India took a much shorter time to regain their composure and this paid dividends as the attack intensified even more. Balwant immediately started creating problems for the Le Dodos defenders and also the wingers started pouring in crosses.
A counter-attacking move led to the winner in 62nd minute. This was started by Lyngdoh who played the ball to Lalpekhlua who laid into to the path of the on rushing Balwant to hit the ball into the top corner of the net with ease. The striker played with a stronger motivation as a great game today would certainly result into more starts for the national team and he looks like a capable striker who is both technically sound and physically adept to lead the attack. Lalpekhlua in the absence of Chhetri took on on more of a creative role over the general out and out attacker.
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After the goal, Constantine looked to add more stability to the midfield and sent out another defensive midfielder Mohammed Rafique to partner Borges in the centre of the park. He replaced the more attack-minded Lyngdoh. This created a stronger looking midfield and the Mauritian attack fizzled out as their chances drastically reduced. True to his style, Constantine blooded youngsters in to the line-up with Jerry Lalrinzuala replacing Nazary and Manvir Singh making his international senior debut replacing Lalpekhlua.
These substitutions paid immediate dividends as there was a flurry of chances created by the youngsters both for themselves and the seniors whith Manvir coming close to scoring on one occasion. As the game intensified the team held their own and laid the game to rest.
India had a shaky start but concluded the game pretty well and showed why they deserve to preserve their winning run which now stretches to 9 games. The Mauritian team gave a strong account of themselves which came as a pleasant surprise and they were serenaded by the Indian faithful after the game.
India next play St. Kitts and Nevis on Thursday while Mauritius play the Caribbean outfit two days earlier.