AFC Asian Cup 2019: Sunil Chhetri at the double as India humble Thailand

Thailand v India
Gabriel Tan Gabriel Tan

India got their AFC Asian Cup 2019 campaign off to a stunning start on Sunday as they humiliated dark horses Thailand with a 4-1 Group A win at the Al Nahyan Stadium.

Veteran striker Sunil Chhetri played a pivotal role with a brace that sandwiched Teerasil Dangda’s equaliser, before Anirudh Thapa and Jeje Lalpekhlua also got in on the act to seal an emphatic victory for the Blue Tigers.

The result – coupled with Saturday’s 1-1 draw between United Arab Emirates and Bahrain – means India currently find themselves top of Group A and already find themselves in a strong position to advance to the Round of 16.

Yet, even the most hopeful of Indian fans are unlikely to have dreamed of what eventuated on Sunday against an opposition highly rated by many, although they certainly had reason to dream when they took the lead in the 27th minute.

Released down the left by a quick throw-in, Ashique Kuruniyan saw his shot saved by Chatchai Budprom only for the rebound to strike Theerathon Bunmathan on the arm.

Theerathon penalised in what proved to be a pivotal moment of the game.

It appeared that the Thailand left-back could do little to avoid the ball but referee Liu Kwok Man had no hesitation in awarding a penalty and – with equal conviction – Chhetri made no mistake in emphatically sending Chatchai the wrong way from the spot.

Nonetheless, the War Elephants did manage to respond three minutes after the half-hour mark with a goal manufactured by two key men who recently returned from season-long spells in the J1 League.

Lining up a freekick on the right, Theerathon curled in a dangerous delivery and Teerasil showed the greatest determination to reach it and glance a header past Gurpreet Singh Sandhu for the equaliser.

Having done well to get back on level terms, the Thais then shot themselves in the foot when they went to sleep immediately after the restart, allowing Udanta Singh to break free down the right and cross to Chhetri, who perfectly dispatched a looping shot over Chatchai.

Thailand’s inept defensive display continued in the 68th minute as Udanta was again given too much time and space to charge towards goal before laying the ball back to Thapa, who showed composure beyond his tender years to dink a neat finish past both Chatchai and a recovering defender into the back of the net.

At this stage, the Thais needed something special if they were to rescue anything out of the contest.

Teerasil tried his best for Thailand but had little support.

But instead, it was India who had the final say with ten minutes remaining after the Thais failed to clear their lines; Halicharan Narzary setting up substitute Jeje to rifle a fierce shot past Chatchai, who perhaps should still have done better to keep it out.

THAILAND: Chatchai Budprom, Tristan Do, Chalermpong Kerdkaew, Pansa Hemviboon, Theerathon Bunmathan, Thitipan Puangchan, Sanrawat Dechmitr (Korrakod Wiriyaudomsiri 58’), Adisak Kraisorn (Sumanya Purisay 79’), Chanathip Songkrasin (Siroch Chatthong 73’), Supachai Jaided, Teerasil Dangda.

INDIA: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Pritam Kotal, Sandesh Jhingan, Anas Edathodika, Subhasish Bose, Udanta Singh, Anirudh Thapa (Rowllin Borges 72’), Pronay Halder (Germanpreet Singh 87’), Halicharan Narzary, Sunil Chhetri, Ashique Kuruniyan (Jeje Lalpekhlua 72’).

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