India stunned Thailand 4-1 in Abu Dhabi on Sunday to register their biggest win in the Asian Cup, thereby breaking a 55-year winless run in the competition.
Captain Sunil Chhetri led the way with a brace, scoring on either side of the half, and Anirudh Thapa netted India’s third. Substitute Jeje Lalpekhlua added gloss to the scoreline shortly after coming on from the bench.
The comprehensive scoreline looked far from achievable at kick-off. Despite Ashique Kuriniyan’s making a couple of powerful runs down the left flank in the early minutes of the first half, the Thailand midfield got their passing game going.
The first chance of the game was created by midfielder Thitipan Puangchan, whose long-range effort went narrowly wide of the post. Minutes later, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and his defenders made a mess of a Thailand free-kick and the ball nearly landed in the back of the net.
Against the run of of play, though, India won a penalty. Ashqiue once again probed the Thai defence, and won a penalty. Chhetri made no mistake from the spot, send Thai goalkeeper Chatchai Budprom the wrong way and showing no emotion after scoring his 66th international goal.
India’s joy, though, was short-lived. Thailand hit back from a free-kick and skipper Teerasil Dangda’s unstoppable header levelled scores.
India corrected their mistakes from the first half and took the lead almost immediately in the second. They won the ball back aggressively, released Udanta Singh on the right and Chhetri, who had a below-par first half, thumped the ball into the roof of the net.
Thailand were not allowed to stroll through the Indian midfield anymore. The Indian defence and midfield worked in tandem to cut out space between the lines. Udanta, Anirudh and Ashique continue to stretch the Thai defence.
The third goal was setup by Chhetri with a delightful through ball. Udanta failed to control the ball in the box but recovered well to tee off Anirudh, whose delicate chip landed in the net.
India then made mincemeat of a napping Thai defence with Jeje getting his first international goal in ten months with a thumping shot from just outside the area just two minutes after coming on.
“Everyone ran for their lives and that’s why we won the game,” said Chhetri after the game.