It was that man again, Sunil Chhetri, who ended up scoring twice, to help India come up with a 2-0 win against Cambodia in their opening match of the AFC Asian Cup final round qualifiers.
This was India’s first match on home soil since October 2019, and the hosts put on a decent show at the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata to ensure they get a good start, as they aim to reach the finals of the continental cup for a second consecutive time.
In Group D of the qualifiers, India has hosting rights for a pool that includes Cambodia, Hong Kong and Afghanistan. The winner of the group earns direct entry to the event in 2023, along with the five best second-placed teams in the eight-group third round.
Chhetri was pleased his side could get the win on the board without conceding on Wednesday, despite not being pleased with the attacking play overall.
“Feels good. We kept a clean sheet. There are a lot of things that we could have done better. I’m not trying to be harsh,” Chhetri told Star Sports after the match.
“It wasn’t easy. It was very humid. But of course, it was the same for both teams, the tempo of the game could not be maintained for a longer time. It was really, really humid, not to give an excuse,” said the 37-year-old.
“At the end of the day to keep a clean sheet and to get the three points was important, which we did. I’m pretty sure the coach will have a lot of things to say after he watches the videos. But all in all, just (to) start on a good note with a clean sheet feels good.”
Chhetri started the scoring by converting a penalty in the 14th minute as Liston Colaco was brought down in the box after a mazy run.
The India captain then doubled the score in the 59th minute after heading home a delicious Brandon Fernandes cross. This however, did come after the skipper missed a few chances earlier, along with a few of his teammates as India just had the penalty to show for 69% possession in the first half.
“We should have,” Chhetri said when asked India could possibly have done more in opening 45 minutes. “We should have, it’s not we could have, we should have.”
Football, AFC Asian Cup qualifiers: India seek Finals berth, and a silver lining in a time of chaos
“And again, I’m not trying to be harsh but you know international football, you don’t get opportunities where you can, you know, get into places where you could cross and do some damage. I think we couldn’t utilise as well, utilise as much as we should have. But again, maybe I’m just being a little bit old and throwing tantrums (smiles). At the end of the day. I think we’re very happy that we got the three points.”
India’s next match is against Afghanistan, a team known to have strong players. The Afghans though lost their opener 2-1 to Hong Kong and will be looking to get a favourable result in order to get their campaign back on track.
But Chhetri asserted that the win against Cambodia would give his younger teammates a great deal of experience of playing on the international stage.
“(The positives are) clean sheet and a lot of boys got a feel of what it means to play 90 minutes. A lot of boys had hadn’t played after the ISL. Few of us were in different physical conditions. So it was a good test for the coach to see,” he added.
“Some of the boys got around, some of the boys played 90 minutes so I think that will be important. Also the coach has already told us that three matches in about six, seven days, we will need every one of us. So yes, that is the positive and of course we haven’t seen the videos of us how we performed and also the Afghan and Hong Kong game. We will now sit and watch that and then analyse and come up with the plan.”
India will play Afghanistan on June 11, at 20:30 hrs IST, followed by the last group match against Hong Kong on June 14.