IMAGE: India’s players celebrate winning their match against Cambodia at the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata on Wednesday. Photograph: Indian Football Team/Twitter
Talismanic Sunil Chhetri was once again the man of the moment as he struck a brace to inspire India to a 2-0 win over Cambodia in the third round of qualifying for next year’s Asian Cup at the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata on Wednesday.
The Igor Stimac’s side were far from their best and failed to make use of their better possession against a weak side but the 37-year-old returned Chhetri from an injury layoff to score on either side of the break (13th and 59th minute).
The double strike brought him back to the third place in the list of highest scorers among active footballers in the world. With 82 goals from 127 matches, Chhetri sits behind Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo (117) and Argentina’s Lionel Messi (86).
IMAGE: Sunil Chhetri scores India’s second goal in the 59th minute. Photograph: Indian Football Team/Twitter
Following a tense start that saw their star centre-back Sandesh Jhingan earn a third minute yellow card for arguing with the referee, Chhetri settled the nerves converting a 14th minute penalty in a calm-headed way.
It was Liston Colaco who was tripped inside the box by Kok Boris of Cambodia. Chhetri took the centre stage and slammed past a diving Hul Kimhuy with his powerful strike.
But thereafter, it was a tale of missed chances for the Blue Tigers who failed to justify their 69 per cent possession to go into the break with a slender lead.
Chhetri missed a couple of headers and even was booked in the 30th minute for a rough tackle on Choun Chanchav as it was not the kind of start the Blue Tigers wanted against the lowly Angkor Warriors.
IMAGE: Ashique Kuruniyan missed a chance to increase India’s lead in the 87th minute. Photograph: Indian Football Team/Twitter
A couple of changes at the break — Sahal Abdul Samad and Udanta Singh coming in for Manvir Singh and Anirudh Thapa — gave the Blue Tigers more fluidity in their attack.
Finally, it was from a superb assist by Brandon Fernandes that Chhetri completed his brace to give India a 2-0 cushion at the hour mark.
The Goan announced his return to the starting XI with a measured cross and Chhetri rose just enough to connect the free header and brought up his 82nd international goal.
IMAGE: India defender Sandesh Jhingan in action. Photograph: Indian Football Team/Twitter
The Indian captain was taken off by Stimac in the 68th minute with Ashique Kuruniyan replacing him.
For Stimac, this was his first win on home soil since his appointment as the head-coach of the Blue Tigers.
Stimac has lost thrice and drawn twice at home, conceding 13 goals earlier.