The Indian senior men’s team kicked off their Intercontinental Cup 2023 campaign with a comfortable 2-0 victory over Mongolia on Friday at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar.

The Blue Tigers wasted no time stamping their authority in the match, with Sahal Abdul Samad finding the net inside two minutes before player of the match Lallianzuala Chhangte doubled the lead in the 14th minute.

Lebanon had earlier beaten Vanuatu 3-1 in the opening game of the four-nation tournament, and thus lead the standings on goals scored after the first matchday.

Intercontinental Cup 2023: Sunil Chhetri and Co hope to win title as India’s packed schedule begins

The Blue Tigers, beginning their bid to reclaim the Intercontinental Cup title they last won in 2018, started off in blistering fashion and took the lead after Anirudh Thapa was set free in acres of space down the right wing. He sent in a menacing low ball into the box which Mongolian goalkeeper Enkhtaivan Munkh-Erdene could only palm into the way of Sahal. The 26-year-old swung it first-time with his left foot to score his third goal for the national team.

Thapa would be the architect of the second goal as well, 12 minutes later – this time from a dead ball situation. His swinging corner was met with a towering downward header from Sandesh Jhingan, which was cleared off the line by Batbold Baljinnyam. The rebound hit Jhingan again before Chhangte, almost hiding in plain sight, pounced on the ball in a flash, volleying it into the net with the outside of his left boot. It was Chhangte’s first goal for India since his strike against DPR Korea in the 2019 Intercontinental Cup in Ahmedabad.

Igor Stimac’s men dominated the middle third and the wide areas throughout the game, with Udanta and Chhangte’s pace and the well-oiled midfield engine of Thapa, Sahal and Apuia causing the Mongolia defence major problems. The latter two had attempts from the edge of the area which narrowly fizzed over the crossbar. A smooth bit of interplay between Sahal and Udanta set the latter free inside the box before he went down under a Mongolian challenge but the referee waved play on.

Despite India’s dominance in the first half, they were not left untested in defence. Anwar Ali made an excellent last-ditch challenge to sweep the ball off the feet of Baljinnyam Batmunkh in one of Mongolia’s rare forays into the Indian box.

The second half saw less goalmouth action and more meticulous play from the hosts as their East Asian opponents sat back and defended in numbers. Thapa, however, continued to tantalise the Mongolia defence with his set-piece deliveries. In the 83rd minute, another one of his right-footed crosses was met with a header from substitute Rohit Kumar, which crashed against the crossbar.

India will next play Vanuatu on Monday, June 12 at 19:30 IST.

Indian squad for the Intercontinental Cup

Goalkeepers: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Amrinder Singh

Defenders: Subhasish Bose, Pritam Kotal, Sandesh Jhingan, Anwar Ali, Akash Mishra, Mehtab Singh, Rahul Bheke

Midfielders: Liston Colaco, Ashique Kuruniyan, Rohit Kumar, Udanta Singh, Anirudh Thapa, Naorem Mahesh Singh, Nikhil Poojary, Jeakson Singh, Sahal Abdul Samad, Lalengmawia Ralte, Lallianzuala Chhangte, Rowllin Borges, Nandha Kumar

Forwards: Sunil Chhetri, Rahim Ali, Ishan Pandita.

The matches will be broadcast live on the Star Sports Network and will be streamed live on Disney+Hotstar and Jio TV