LNTUP

Blue tigers edge past The white angels at Yangon

Photo: AIFF
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Chhetri’s last minute heroic sets India’s Asian Cup qualifiers campaign on a high.

If India qualifies for the Asian Cup 2019 to be held in UAE, Stephen Constantine will surely look back to the journey and obviously thank young Udanta Singh for that rampaging run and the golden pass to Chhetri.

Sunil Chhetri, the man of the moment
Sunil Chhetri, the man of the moment.

 

The scoreboards and the headlines will talk tons on Chhetri’s last minute stunner but the contribution of this Bengaluru FC winger is what made it all as the Blue Tigers start their AFC Asian Cup qualifiers campaign on a positive note away at Yangon. 64 years, yes 64 years is what it took India to beat Myanmar in their own den again after 1953!

The head to head record between the two teams was favouring the home side as they were leading the series 10-4. The last meeting between the two teams, which was incidentally in the same venue, ended in favour of Myanmar as they went on to beat India 1-0 in the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers. One of the darkest hours in Indian footballing history came against today’s opponents back in 1971 at Kuala Lumpur when India was thrashed 9-1 by a mighty Burma(then) side.

 

It was a faceoff between two countries both of whom are twice Asian Games Champions, but in distant past, India in 1951 and 1962 and Myanmar in 1966 and 1970. But the current footballing scenario of neither countries justify their glorious pasts. While India is currently 132nd, Myanmar is sitting 172nd, with a fall of 13 places in the latest FIFA rankings.

Before this match, Gerd Zeise’s boys played a practice match against Indonesia U-22 team and beat them 3-1. Zeise, a German by nationality was promoted to the role of the head coach of Myanmar senior side after delivering goods with the U-21 side. He replaced Raddy Avramović at the hot seat. On the other hand, India were fresh from the win against Cambodia at Phnom Penh which was their first away win in a friendly in 12 years.

The match started with India dominating the first 10 minutes. The trio of Sunil-Jeje-Robin built up some good and fast moves to test the Myanmar defence.In between, on the 8th minute, Myanmar’s star man Kyaw Ko Ko made a dirting run towards the goal but Mohun Bagan stopper Anas, who was given the nod ahead of Arnab Mondal by Constantine remained sticked to the player untill Gurpreet Singh Sandhu valiantly dived to take the ball under his control from the feet of the Yangon United player.

Stephen Constantine
The coach and the captain after the victory. Photo: AIFF

Jeje Lalpekhlua, the man in form who has struck 9 times in the last 9 outings for the Blues took a long-ranger which went above the bar post on the 15th minute.

On the 20th minute, the team in red won a free kick just outside the box. Ko Ko took the freekick and tested Gurpreet, but the Indian custodian was composed enough to keep his goal unharmed. On the 25th, Myanmar built a dangerous move which again involved Ko Ko. The player made a great run and put a good pass to winger Aung-Thu who had an open net infront of him. But the youngster failed to make any contact with the ball as the 10 thousand crowd at Thuwanna YTC stadium could not believe their eyes. The Indian bench heaved a sigh of relief.

On the 28th minute left-back Narayan Das made a cross to the centre which Si Thu, the experienced goalkeeper fumbled as the ball fell on Jackichand’s feet. While all he had to do was to loop the ball into the net, the East Bengal player hit straight to the hands of the 30 year old custodian much to the disbelief of his clubmate Robin Singh, who was standing near.

On the 31st minute the best chance of the match came to India and again it was Jackichand Singh involved in the scheme of things. Robin Singh put a cross to the centre, Jeje left it leaving Si Thu surprised as the ball came to Jackichand who had an empty net infront of him to score. But stunningly he hit the ball above the cross bar from a 2 metre distance before falling down on the ground in the agony of missing the sitter.

On the 33rd minute, a potent shot by Sunil Chhetri was blocked by the Myanmar keeper. It was a stuff of drama when on the 38th minute Sandesh Jhingan was booked by the referee from Chinese-Taipei for an alleged foul on Myanmar’s No 10-Kyaw Ko Ko. Jhinghan mocked the referee’s decision by clapping which could attract a bigger penalty. Although the replay showed there was not much of a contact and the Yangon United player fell to easily.

On the 40th minute, Myanmar tested the Indian custodian with a tricky freekick which the Stabæk FC goalkeeper managed to somehow annihilate as the ball rebounded out. The half ended with a mid-range strike from the best player of the first 45 minutes-Ko Ko which sailed above the crossbar marginally. The first half thus concluded with the deadlock still to be broken.

In the 2nd half Zeise’s men began in a revitalised mood. They built attacks after attacks although the Indian defence led by Jhinghan somehow stood astute. Gurpreet was also brought into action multiple times as the front two of Kyaw Ko Ko and Aung Thu was tearing Indian defence apart assisted by the two wingers-Si Thu Aung and Yan Naing Oo, much to the delight of the Myanmarese crowd.

Realising a potential peril, Constantine made a change. The Brit subbed Robin Singh off and brought young Udanta Singh to install some pace and reverse the direction of attacks. And it started to pay off as Udanta’s pacy runs from the right flank began testing the homeside’s defence.

In the meantime, Udanta seemingly got fouled in the Myanmar box but the referee astonishingly showed no interest. The replay showed the mistimed tackle by one of the Myanmar defenders hit Udanta’s legs as he fell inside the box. Myanmar bench heaved a sigh of relief.

Sunil Chhetri
Chhetri heavily marked by opponents, a site that has become regular in every match. Photo: AIFF

At this juncture, Sunil Chhetri much to the surprise of all, committed two handballs in a span of mere 15 seconds and threw the ball away in frustration only to get booked. He later again handed the ball for which he could have easily been booked and given marching orders but the referee kept the play on giving it a consideration.

With ten minutes left to play Constantine made two changes in a span of two minutes. He brought Rowlin Borges and Jackichand Singh out substituting them with Dhanpal Ganesh and Holicharan Narzary.

India in the meantime made a good move, Udanta positioned himself well but hit straight to Si Thu who narrowed the angle by coming forward. On the other end, Ko Ko got another opportunity as the cross fell right upon him but he failed to direct the ball properly inspite of being unmarked as the header went above the bar.

The match was reaching its conclusion and both the dugouts were settling in for a draw when Udanta Singh started a run from a pass from his skipper-Sunil Chhetri on the stroke of ninety minutes. Udanta kept running defying the challenges of the opponents and after reaching the box made a perfect cross to Chhetri. A million dollar pass it was the only thing Chhetri had to do was to time the shot to perfection and to direct it into the goal and the talismanic Indian skipper did that with the calmness of a cucumber. The crowd at the capital became silent with the goal that came completely against the run of play.

India stood firm for the remaining seconds as the referee’s whistle confirmed 3 vital away points for Constantine’s men.

Myanmar’s next match in the qualifiers is against Macau on 13th June while India’s next opponent in the competition is Kyrgyzstan with whom they would lock horns on 7th of June before which they will play a practice match against Lebanon.

With two teams from this group getting tickets for UAE, India have surely made the path forward much smoother with this crucial win. And for that, the whole country would thank their ‘Captain Fantastic’.

Starting line-ups:
●MYANMAR: Si Thu(GK), Zaw Min Tun, David Htan, Yan Aung Kyaw (C), Tin Win Aung, Aung Thu, Kyaw Ko Ko, Yan Naing Oo, Phyo Ko Ko Thein, Si Thu Aung, Thein Than Win

●INDIA: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Pritam Kotal, Jhinghan, Anas, Narayan Das, Rowlin Borges, Lyngdoh, Chhetri, Jackichand, Robin, Jeje]