The skies opened up for the first time in the day an hour prior to the kick-off. And it rained almost all throughout.
On the field, it was 10 vs 11. And 10 won!
A 10-man India proved too hot for Guam as India registed a solitary goal victory to notch up their first win in the FIFA World Cup Russia 2018 Preliminary Joint Qualification Round 2 match at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru.
A Robin Singh goal in the 10th minute followed up by some planned execution in the midfield and defence proved enough.
India played to a plan in the first half. Playing Lobo upfront proved to be a masterstroke. He was someone who could hold onto the ball and play those one-twos. The two flanks kept it busy – Sunil Chhetri on the left wing, and debutant Romeo Fernandes (the 500th Player to play for India) on the right, proved handy every time they received the ball. And as India headed to the interval leading one-nil with a man down after Sehnaj Singh was red carded in the 43rd minute, the challenge was huge enough.
The Goal came as early as the 10th minute. One of Gurpreet Singh Sandhu’s long shots found Chhetri on the left flank. Chhetri gathered it, evaded his marker and set it up for Robin. But it was Robin’s deft turn that opened up the goalmouth and the ‘big guy’ smashed it in – mind you with his right foot.
That apart India earned four corners in the first half in comparison to Guam’s two.
India had their first shot at the rival goal in the 5th minute. The duo of Romeo and Captain Chhetri found Eugenson Lyngdoh in the clear but the latter’s powerful grounder was collected by rival Goalkeeper Douglas Herrick.
In the 20th minute, Chhetri laid another for Lyngdoh just outside the box but his shot sailed over.
Guam survived another scare in the 24th minute. Chhetri intercepted one of Herrick’s clearances and with his speed caught the rival defence napping. But his left-footer deflected for a corner from which both which both Arnab Mondal and Sadesh Jhingan came agonizingly close to tap it in, but failed to get the touch.
With everything seemingly going right for India, India suffered a jolt when Sehnaj Singh was flashed the red card in the 43rd minute for a rough tackle.
Changing over, Harmanjot Singh Khabra came in for Romeo Fernandes as Coach Constantine opted to add number to the depleted Indian midfield.
With the West Block Blues cheering the ‘Men in Blue’ with every passing second of the match and the banner of “One Nation.One Dream” glaring at the audience, unity seemed to be evident everywhere.
On the pitch, the Indian Team defended and attacked together. In the 48th minute, Sandesh made a fine interception after reading the opponent’s play to thwart a Guam attack. Shortly after, ‘safe hands’ Sandhu denied Guam with a top-notch acrobatic save.
Even lacking a man did not deter the sense of togetherness in the Indian Team. The unity seemed so much so that everyone was defending together as a cohesive unit.
In the 56th minute, Robin Singh tested Douglas’s credentials again as he tried to shoot from outside of the box. The shot however lacked the necessary venom and Guam lived to tell the tale another day.
The solidarity in defence duties were not only exhaustive to the back four, but to the midfield and the forwards as well. Sunil Chhetri’s inch-perfect tackle to deny Guam any breathing space onto goal, after shadowing his man for 30 odd yards is just one example of the defensive duties that every player took.
However in the 65th minute, Chhetri burst onto goal with the Goalkeeper at his mercy, but the Guam custodian made a fine diving save to deny India its second goal. Two minutes later, in search of doubling the lead, Cavin Lobo shot from distance but Douglas once again saved the day for Guam.
With both Teams jostling for possession, neither had a clear goal scoring opportunity. India however garnered one in the 79th minute as the Skipper, Sunil Chhetri, shot from an acute angle earning a corner in the process. The resulting Eugeneson corner came agonizingly close to doubling India’s lead as it went abegging.
Three minutes later, Sunil Chhetri burst onto a vacant left asphalt after a one-two with Cavin Lobo. Chhetri sidestepped his marker and tried to curl the ball in as it went whiskers wide of the goal.
With the ‘Blue Army’ rooting for their heroes and chants of “India, India” and “When the Blues go marching in” all but audible, the Indian National Team showed discipline, desire and passion.
(Report & Photo courtesy AIFF Media)