It was meant to be a practice game for India as they prepared for their AFC Asian Cup Qualifier against Macau. For the first 30 minutes of their game against Mauritius on Saturday, it appeared the visitors were having a great warm-up.
The, hosts, who went into the game on a eight-game unbeaten run, were spared the blushes as they came back strongly through goals from Robin Singh and debutant Balwant Singh to seal a narrow 2-1 win in the opening game of the friendly Tri-nation series that began at the Mumbai Football Arena on Saturday.
This was their third win in Mumbai and their ninth on the trot. While the numbers might point towards a fine run of form for India, it wasn’t as smooth in the first hald hour.
Mauritius hit the ground running after the kick-off. They controlled the ball for much of the opening hour. Their star player and skipper Kevin Bru created many problems for India. The midfielder, who plies his trade for English Championship side Ipswich Town, showed off his class with a commanding performance in the centre of midfield. He controlled the tide of the game for much of the opening spells, creating space for his team even as India hovered around him in hope of a mistake.
The 28-year-old was in top form and gave little away. With India chasing the game, Mauritius soon went on the offensive and were awarded with a goal in the 18th minute through Mervyn Jocelyn. This was the first time in four games that India have conceded.
India took the setback in their stride and began forming a fight back.
Mauritius too seemed to have taken their foot off the pedal. Bru was left with little support as his teammates sat back. India jumped on the loose play from their opponents. Rowlin Roges made a fine run and placed a perfectly executed through ball in the path of striker Robin Singh, who finished cleanly to bring the game to level terms in the 38th minute.
The game opened up from there on as India began contesting for the ball rather than just sitting back and soaking in the pressure as they had in the first 30 minutes.
In the second half, Mauritius lokoed far more scrappy as their players appeared to have tired out. Bru too seemed off colour after the resumption. Coach Stephen Constatine made three changes at the break, as Nikhil Poojary, Balwant Singh and Amrinder Singh replaced Jackichand Singh, Robin Singh and Subrata Paul respectively.
Balwant, who was playing in his first international game for the senior team, put India in front just around the hour-mark. Like Robin, Balwant too was fed a neatly placed through ball. One on one with the keeper, Balwant slotted home to send fans in the sparsely filled stands into delirium.
Playing without, experienced players, Sunil Chhetri and Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, India showed immense resilience, especially from its forwards. The early goal had created many doubts, but the crucial goal from Robin, helped the team calm down as their opponents looked to stretch their lead.
India did well to hold on in the dying moments. They had a few chances of their own, but were nervy in the back as Mauritius refused to give up. Bru set up a few slick moves, but could not affect any chance of note in the second half as India completed their ninth win on the trot.
A come from behind victory is always a great confidence-booster. India, though, will take plenty of lessons from the game before they face St Kitts & Nevis on Tuesday, where they will look to seal their tenth straight win.
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