A Sunil Chhetri led India beat Macau 4-1 to register their fourth successive win in as many matches of Group A at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru to script India’s second qualification to the AFC Asian Cup in last 8 years, and fourth overall.
India had last qualified to the 2011 AFC Asian Cup in Doha.
The first goal came in the 28th minute. Off a build-up down the left, Rowllin Borges after receiving it from Jeje Lalpekhlua preferred to turn and his right-footer hit rival captain Cheang Cheng and went in before Macau levelled things before the break.
The second goal came as a relief for most of the fans, and it came in the 60th minute. The triangle of Jeje Lalpekhlua, Balwant Singh and Sunil Chhetri did the trick. Jeje essayed it to Balwant in vacant space who sped past his marker and laid it for Chhetri at the other end to tap it in.
The path to the qualification to the 2019 AFC Asian Cup became all the more broader when in the 70th minute a Halicharan shot deflected off a defender and rolled over the head of Man Fai. Jeje Lalpekhlua added more gloss to the scoreline in added extra time (90’+2) to score India’s fourth goal and complete mission Macau.
On a night where it rained almost all throughout, India pressed the pedal from right from the kick-off. A corner was earned in the first minute itself and thereafter there were a barrage of attacks.
In the 20th minute, Lao Pak Kin was yellow carded for pulling Sunil Chhetri off the ball, but Chhetri’s free-kick sailed over. The very next minute, Pritam Kotal’s centre bounced of rival Goalkeeper Ho Man Fai’s hands but he managed to hold on in the second attempt.
Borges’ put India in the lead in the 28th minute but it didn’t last long – Nicholas Mario sneaking in between the defenders to head it in nine minutes later. The drizzle had stopped by then and both teams headed to the interval at 1-1.
Changing over, Balwant Singh came in for Jackichand Singh.
Even as India very much like the first half seized the initiative, it was not before the 55th minute that the Blue Tigers had a shy at the goal. But an acrobatic Ho Man Fai kept off Sandesh Jhingan’s header off an Eugeneson Lyngdoh corner.
Chhetri, as he is wont to do, scored his 55th International goal in the 60th minute and two minutes later, Balwant the feeder could have sealed it but his placement just went wide after an onrushing Man Fai had managed to narrow down the angle.
Constantine made his second change in the 65th minute – Md Rafique coming in for Borges.
The third goal for India came in the 70th minute and with some 20 minutes remaining the fate seemed to have been more or less sealed.
The third substitution was made in the 77th minute — Salam Ranjan Singh replacing Anas Edathodika and making his debut for the Indian National Team in the process. In the 86th minute, Jeje almost gave the Macau defence a scare when he shot at half turn after Sunil Chhetri found him near the box. The shot flew inches wide of the goal as Macau survived to tell the tale. Three minutes later, Balwant Singh put a goal on Jeje’s plate but Jeje, a little too eager was caught offside with only the net to find after he rounded off the goalkeeper.
However it was written in the stars for Jeje Lalpekhlua as the Mizo striker found the net in the dying embers of the match, tapping in a Sunil Chhetri pass to make the scoreline read 4-1. The full-time scoreline read 4-1 as India marched onto qualification for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup.
India: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu – Pritam Kotal, Anas Edathodika (77′ Salam Ranjan Singh), Sandesh Jhingan, Narayan Das – Jackichand Singh (46′ Balwant Singh), Rowllin Borges (65′ Moahmme Rafique), Eugeneson Lyngdoh, Halicharan Narzary – Sunil Chhetri [C], Jeje Lalpekhlua