Intercontinental Cup: India’s intensity stands out in Sunil Chhetri-inspired win over inexperienced Chinese Taipei

Mumbai: Chinese Taipei coach Gary White made it very clear during the pre-tournament press conference that the team which has travelled to India does not include many senior players, and they are treating the Intercontinental Cup as an opportunity for young players’ development. The inexperience was on display on Friday as India thrashed their opponents 5-0 in the opening game of the tournament at Mumbai’s Andheri Sports Complex, with skipper Sunil Chhetri scoring a terrific hat-trick.

India players celebrate after scoring the fifth goal against Chinese Taipei. @Twitter: @IndianFootball

India players celebrate after scoring the fifth goal against Chinese Taipei. @Twitter: @IndianFootball

Despite White’s proclamation, not much was known about the quality of the Taiwanese team and there were lingering doubts whether Indian team will do enough to humble their opponents. But just minutes into the kick-off, the gulf between the two teams, in terms of quality, became pretty apparent.

Chinese Taipei were guilty of giving too much space for the Indian attackers to exploit with both Chhetri and Jeje Lalpekhlua looking threatening to break the deadlock. It was skipper Chhetri who drew first blood in the 14th minute when he collected a fine through ball from Jeje on the right and hit the ball past the Taiwan goalkeeper. India upped the ante as the game progressed, using Udanta Singh’s pace from the right flank.

The hosts did not take much time to double their lead as Chhetri, Jeje and Anirudh Thapa were involved in a brilliant link-up play with the captain netting his second of the night in the 20th minute. It started from Thapa collecting the ball in the midfield and passing it to Jeje, who then set up a beautiful ball for Chettri to score from a tight angle. Starting for the first time, Thapa had a brilliant game for his national team. He was instrumental in breaking the Taiwanese defence on a number of occasions and his energy on the field might have given Udanta a complex.

At half-time, India were 2-0 but it could’ve been more and Chhetri would’ve bagged his hat-trick in the first half itself if not for the heroics of Taiwan goalkeeper Wen-Chieh Pan. The break did not hamper India’s momentum as just three minutes into the second-half, Udanta’s wonderful strike gave India a three-goal lead. The Bengaluru FC winger showed his trickery with feet to beat his marker and net the first goal in India’s colours.

From this point on, the match entered a state where it was all about India trying to score as many goals as possible. Playing his 99th international match for the country, Chhetri scored his 59th goal and third hat-trick for India when he converted Thapa’s cross. The hat-trick might not be significant considering the opponents, but Chhetri once again showed why he’s so important to the team. His finishing skills are second to none in the team and even at 33, he’s not showing any signs of slowing down.

India had a perfect end to the game thanks to midfielder Pronoy Haldar. Coming back into the team after recovering from injuries, Haldar was impressive in the defensive midfield role. He was there in the defence whenever the team needed and he also did his bit in the attacking department. He made the night special with an absolute screamer to make it five goals for India in the 78th minute. Haldar did well to get hold of the ball on the left and then scored a blinder from the edge of the box. Despite trailing the game by goals, Chinese Taipei didn’t give up and they went close on two occasions, but Indian goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu came to the rescue of his team and made sure that he gets a clean sheet.

The most striking feature of the Indian team in the match was how they didn’t let the intensity go down even when they took a comfortable lead. Physically, Indian players were top notch with incessant running and creating chances at regular intervals. The conditions were also not the best as Mumbai’s humid weather made things more difficult for both the teams.

Chinese Taipei might have suffered a demoralising defeat but head coach White was not at all disappointed with the result. “I think everything went right for us in terms of future as six U-23 players and two U-18 players played tonight. The tournament is about development and experience for us and our players have to learn. We shall try to fix things as early as possible,” White said in the post-match press conference.

For India, this was a dominating victory. They are playing with a full-strength squad so it was good to see some of the key players living up the reputation and also youngsters showing promise. Constantine would know that in Kenya and New Zealand, they will face better opponents and he would want his team to maintain the intensity in the upcoming matches.

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Updated Date: Jun 02, 2018 09:48:36 IST

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