As the capacity crowd of 30,000 cheered and applauded Sunil Chhetri and Co right from the word go at the Khuman Lampak Stadium in Imphal, Manipur, the Blue Tigers played some inspiring football against the higher-ranked Kyrgyz Republic to snatch a 2-0 victory on Tuesday. The win helped the hosts claim the Tri-National International Tournament Trophy with an all-win record under their belt and without conceding a goal.

Indian football: Sunil Chhetri – ‘My hunger to score is the same as it has always been’

Played during the Fifa international break window between March 22 and 28, 2023, India coach Igor Stimac and his wards made the best out of the opportunity winning both matches in the competition. They began their campaign with a 1-0 win over Myanmar followed by the positive result against the Kyrgyz Republic on Tuesday to put them at six points from two encounters.

Against the Kyrgyz Republic, the opening goal came from a rather unexpected scorer – centre-back Sandesh Jhingan found the target in the 34th minute. As Brandon Fernandes put the ball in style in front of the rival goalmouth off a free-kick, Jhingan made his move to find the back of the net. Jhinganwaited for the ball to land and then struck it with deft touch to give India the lead.

Stimac, on the eve of the match, spoke about going for all-out attacks despite the fact that a draw would have been enough to keep the trophy home. He certainly kept his word as India launched a series of raids on the opposition goal whenever they had the opportunity. One such attack in the 84th minute saw the Kyrgyz Republic defence crumble under pressure as Naorem Mahesh Singh was brought down inside the penalty box by Davydov Nikolai.

It led to not just the second goal for India, but also the 85th international strike in his career for the Indian captain Sunil Chhetri.

Overall, India were the deserving winners, their fifth straight win on home turf. Stimac made six changes from the team that started against Myanmar, but it didn’t at all break their rhythm. In fact, India could have won by a bigger margin – the Kyrgyz Republic goal had a few close shaves as a couple of attempts from Chhetri and Chhangte missed the target by a whisker. If preparations for the AFC Asian Cup in January next was the chief purpose of hosting the tournament, then it was definitely a success – the Indians clearly displayed that they were growing in confidence before they take up the all-important continental challenge.

Women’s team loses to Uzbekistan

India’s women’s national team lost a close friendly match 3-2 against hosts Uzbekistan at the Pakhtakor Stadium in Tashkent on Tuesday.

The Uzbeks opened the scoring in the seventh minute through Diyora Khabibullaeva, but Grace Dangmei equalised in the 23rd minute.

The hosts once again took the lead a minute later through a Lyudmila Karachik penalty to take the score to 2-1 into the break.

In the second half, Indumathi Kathiresan levelled proceedings again, and Uzbekistan had to rely on a 92nd minute winner by Kamila Zaripova to win the match.

India are currently preparing for AFC Women’s Olympic Qualifiers Round 1, in Group G alongside hosts Kyrgyz Republic. Turkmenistan were originally the third team in the group but after their withdrawal, India will play the Kyrgyz Republic in a two-legged tie, with the winner advancing to Round 2 of the qualifiers.

Previously, the Blue Tigresses have played friendlies against Nepal (2-2 and 0-0) and Jordan (1-2 and 0-0).

India last played Uzbekistan in April 2021, also in a friendly, which they lost 1-2.

After Tuesday’s friendly, India will travel to the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek, where they will play their two matches against the hosts on April 4 and April 7 (both at 19:30 IST).

Women’s team crashes out of U17 SAFF Cup

The India U-17 team put on a brave display before eventually going down to 2-0 to Russia in their final game of the SAFF U-17 Women’s Championship campaign on Tuesday. The Young Tigresses finished third on the table, winning two and losing two games in the tournament.

India went into this game on a high, after a 9-0 demolition of Bhutan, but knew that they were in for a tough contest by facing the most dominant team at the tournament. Almost from the start, Russia ensured that India didn’t get much of the ball, rotating possession and controlling the play. India’s defence were up to the task, but in the 10th minute, an unfortunate goalkeeping error downed them.

Vasilisa Avlienko’s long-range effort, while swerving dangerously, looked to be comfortable for Khushi Kumari. The youngster though misjudged the curve and ended up palming it into the net. Three minutes later, Russia were awarded a penalty after a clumsy foul in the box and Daria Kotlova converted coolly to double their lead.

India latched up their defence for the rest of the half, and played on the counter, the defence often launching long balls to Shilji Shaji, Pooja and Sibani Devi in the hope of catching Russia cold.

At the start of the second half, the ploy almost paid off, when Arina Kadigrob and goalkeeper Uliana Obukhova made a mess of a routine save to allow Sibani to sneak in. The winger capitalised on their dallying to snatch the ball, but Obukhova was at hand to ensure she didn’t run free.

From there the chances fell few and far between for the Young Tigresses, who put bodies behind the ball to ensure they didn’t concede more, and try and force the game at the later stages.

With a minute of regulation time left to play India had their best chance of the game. From an indirect free kick Shilji forced Obukhova into a diving save. The rebound fell to Menaka who played Pooja through. The youngster shot wide. It brought the curtain down on a valuable learning experience for the young team.