India recorded their first win in Fifa World Cup qualifying campaign as talisman Sunil Chhetri struck twice for a 2-0 victory over Bangladesh in the joint preliminary round match in Doha on Monday.
Chhetri first found the back of the net in the 79th minute to keep his team on course for entry into the third qualifying round of the 2023 Asian Cup.
The 2-0 victory ended India’s eleven-match winless run and gave under-pressure Stimac just his second win as Indian boss.
India had to dig deep for the three points as they left it late to open up a stubborn Bangladesh defence.
Starting the match on the bench, second-half substitute Ashique Kuruniyan delivered a cross from the left which Chhetri, after a long run and from a tight angle, headed in brilliantly from behind Topu Barman at the Al Sadd Stadium.
Chhetri then rounded off his night with another fine strike in extra time (90+2) after receiving the ball from Suresh Singh from the right flank.
A confident India found themselves pressing in the opposition half after Chhetri’s 73rd goal in international football and the move worked as the captain scored his and the team’s second just before the final whistle.
Despite being ahead, India looked to add to their tally with both Ashique and Chhetri linking up well, even as most of the Bangladesh players moved up in search of an equaliser.
In the end, the equaliser did not materialise but India surely ended on a high, giving their campaign the much-needed boost after a series of winless outings.
With his two goals, Chhetri became international football’s second-highest scorer among active players and more than made up for the fumble in the 63rd minute when the unmarked captain missed a free header after a fine ball from Brandon Fernandes.
Bangladesh started the game brightly and threatened to open the scoring from a long throw-in. But India slowly picked up the pace and began dictating terms without asking too many questions of the goalkeeper.
India were denied what seemed a clear penalty when Chhetri was nudged inside the penalty area in the 29th minute but the referee penalised the Indian captain for a handball.
Six minutes later, Chinglensana Singh almost gave India the lead with a thumping header from a corner that was cleared off the line by the Bangladeshi defender.
India threatened more from set-plays than from open play as Stimac rung in the changes in the second half. He brought on Mohammed Yasir and Ashique Kuruniyan at the break for Bipin Singh and Udanta Singh before replacing Manvir Singh with Liston Colaco at the hour mark.
But just when it seemed that India were running out of ideas to break Bangladesh down, Chhetri struck the opening blow.
India never looked back after that secured an important win in their World Cup qualifying campaign. The victory lifted them to third place and a point above Afghanistan who have played a game fewer.
India will end their campaign with a game against Afghanistan on June 15.
(With PTI inputs)