55-year-long wait over, India taste win
Abu Dhabi, January 6
Sunil Chhetri struck a brace to help India stunningly outplay Thailand 4-1 and record their first victory in the Asian Cup since 1964 on a historic night here today. Chhetri scored in the 27th (penalty) and 46th minutes for his 66th and 67th goals to become the second highest international goal-scorer among active players. Midfielder Anirudha Thapa and second half substitute Jeje Lalpekhlua then struck in the 68th and 80th minutes to completely outclass Thailand in front of sizeable Indian supporters. Thailand captain and striker Teerasil Dangda pulled one back for his side in the 33rd minute of the Group A match. A draw in either of the two coming matches against the UAE and Bahrain could see India through to the knockout round.
Ranked 97th in the FIFA charts, India went into the match eyeing a win against their 118th ranked opponents, but the scoreline and impressive show by the players, especially in the second half, was unexpected. Thailand were the better side in the first half with an overwhelming 70 per cent possession and more shots on target. India could build up few neat moves and lost the ball often.
But the complexion of the match changed completely in the second session with India scoring three goals to take the match out of Thailand’s reach.
India gave 21-year-old Ashique Kuruniyan a start over the likes of Jeje Lalpekhlua and Balwant Singh. He earned the penalty for India after a quick throw from the left flank. Chhetri stepped up and sent the Thai goalie the wrong way to put India 1-0 up. Thailand equalised within six minutes with Dangda connecting a quality free-kick to head over Gurpreet into the India net.
A minute into the second session, India scored a world-class goal through Chhetri, leaving Thailand stunned. Nimble-footed winger Udanta Singh ran down the right flank in a flash and his superb cross was connected by Chhetri on the top of the box, and curled it in past the Thai goalkeeper. Thapa scored the third goal when he chipped the ball over a couple of defenders into the net. Lalpekhlua then scored two minutes after coming on the field to complete the tally.