India had all the odds against them. A team hit by injuries which prevented as many as six starting members unable to travel and another three more who may start on any other day not with the squad too, not much was expected. Add to that the jinx of not having won an away qualifier since 2001.
A new India, a young India came out triumphant by a solitary goal against Laos, a 56th minute Jeje Lalpekhlua strike separating the two sides in the first leg of the play-offs for the qualifiers of the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 at the National Stadium in Vientiane on Thursday (June 2). The return leg is slated to be played in Guwahati on June 7.
The goal came eleven minutes in the second half. Udanta Singh, who had changed flanks got past his marker in a flash and centred. The ball ballooned off a defender’s head and Jeje following it up, calmly placed it in.
National Coach Stephen Constantine, however, said that he “wasn’t too pleased with the performance.”
“Laos made it difficult for us running all around. But we can play much better than this,” he maintained in the official post-match press conference. “We have just won the first-half and go into our home match with a slight advantage. Hopefully, we can win at home,” he added.
When reminded about breaking the jinx of having scripted an away win in a qualifier since 2001, Constantine didn’t seem much willing to read into it. “I never care about records,” is all what he said.
On the field, India were clinical. They slowed it down when needed, pressed the pedal when they felt it was needed and played among themselves when needed too.
The second-half looked more purposeful. With captain Sunil Chhetri holding onto the ball, India looked to initiate from almost every attack. Laos defended, sometimes desperately.
Despite playing an away game, India had the better of exchanges in the first half. On a couple of occasions, Jeje Lalpekhlua started off the blocks that split second faster and was hence, rightly judged off-side.
The wings were active if not penetrative in the first 25 minutes. But the understanding developed as the match moved ahead and with Udanta Singh and Halicharan Narzary having changed flanks, the rivals were finding it a bit difficult.
Not being allowed the luxury of settling down, Laos were getting frustrated and it allowed two chances to Eugeneson Lyngdoh to have two cracks at the goal.
The first clear chance came in the 42nd minute. It was initiated by Halicharan down the left as he found Jeje. Jeje , as he wont to do, shielded it perfectly in an effort to find Sunil Chhetri. Sunil left it for Eugene and with a clear shy at the goal, his placement sailed over.
Minutes later, another of Narayan Das’ centre met an acrobatic volley from Eugene only to miss by a whisker.
Meanwhile, Striker Sumeet Passi made his international debut for India on the day – the 25th debutant to have been fielded by Constantine since taking over in his second stint.
(Report & Photo courtesy AIFF Media)