The Indian football team posted their first win under new coach Igor Stimac as they defeated Thailand 1-0 at the Chang Arena in Buriram to clinch third place in the 2019 King’s Cup on Saturday.
Anirudh Thapa’s sixteenth-minute strike was enough for India to win the third-place play-off as a combination of last-ditch defending and poor finishing from both sides meant the scoreline remained unaltered after the early goal.
Stimac, who had promised to shuffle the pack for the game against the hosts, kept his word as he made eight changes to the team that lost 3-1 to Curacao in the last game.
The Croatian kept Sunil Chhetri, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Udanta Singh, Pronay Halder and Pritam Kotal out of his team to give a chance to the younger lot.
Last game’s top performers Raynier Fernandes and Amarjit Singh Kiyam started in central midfield along with Vinit Rai in the defensive role. Balwant Singh and Farukh Choudhary started up top for the Blue Tigers with Thapa slotted just behind the pair.
India started the game on the front foot keeping the ball well and forcing Thailand to defend in their own half. It appeared that India carried on from the good second-half show against Curacao for a while, before the hosts got into their groove and began attacking the Indian box from wide areas.
In the 16th minute though, India edged ahead after Thailand made a mess of an Indian set-piece allowing Adil Khan to collect the loose ball and fire a teasing cross across the face of the goal which was met profitably at the past post by Thapa. The diminutive midfielder who wasn’t selected in the first game made a mark instantly when afforded a chance to add to the selection headache for the Croatian.
Thailand responded well after falling behind, but the Indian centre-back pairing of Jhingan and Khan dealt with everything the Thai players threw at them. India got a lucky break in the 22nd minute when Teerasil Dangda put the ball in the back of the net only for the linesman to flag him offside. Thailand had a taker at the far post who was onside had Dangda not intervened but The Blue Tigers were to get lucky.
Thailand peppered the Indian box with low crosses from the wide areas but Khan made several crucial tackles and blocks to preserve India’s clean sheet. His block to deny Danga in the 35th minute was the pick of the lot.
India squandered a fine chance to double their lead before the interval when Farukh Choudhary broke clear behind the Thai defence after latching onto Khan’s measured pass. However, the youngster’s pass for Balwant to tap into the empty net was short and was cut off at just the right moment by a retreating Thai defender.
On the other side of the break, Choudhary came close to redeeming himself when his left-footed effort hit the woodwork in the 48th minute.
Stimac made a double change around the hour mark bringing on Manvir Singh for Balwant and Jackichand for Choudhary.
Manvir’s energy almost gave India their second when he pressed the goalkeeper who panicked and let a back pass go towards the Thai goal. He had defender Suphan Thongsong to thank who lunged in to clear the ball off the line injuring himself in the process.
Thailand pushed ahead in numbers as the game went deeper, leaving spaces for the Indians to exploit on the counter, but the away side couldn’t profit much owing to tiredness in their ranks due to the hot weather conditions.
Khan who had an inspired afternoon was at the rescue yet again for The Blue Tigers when he cut off a pass to Dangda at full stretch when he was ready to break clear on goal in the 87th minute. Thailand threw the kitchen sink at the Indians in the dying minutes and goalkeeper Amrinder Singh needed to be on the toes to pull off a reflex save in stoppage time to deny the hosts an equaliser.
India held on to register a famous win in Thailand and proved that their 4-1 success over the same opponents in the AFC Asian Cup five months ago was no flash in the pan.