India played true to its form and situation to beat Cambodia 2-0 courtesy of a Sunil Chhetri brace in the opening group D fixture of AFC Asian Cup 2023 qualifiers, at the Salt Lake Stadium here on Wednesday.
Playing his 127th match for the country, Chhetri got his 81st international goal by scoring a 14th-minute penalty. The Indian captain could have made it 3-0 by the half-hour mark but failed to produce the sharpness when he was found inside the box with accurate crosses, first by the right-back Roshan Singh in the 22nd minute and next by the left-back Akash Mishra in the 32nd minute.
The Indian captain sent his header over in the first attempt while failing to connect his second from near the dreaded spot.
India controlled the action for a greater part of the match as the visitor sought to guard its box with eight men for most of the occasion. There Indian attack-line struggled initially against Cambodia’s overtly defensive arrangement but settled down to a rhythm as Liston Colaco started finding the chinks the opposition armour in partnership with Akash.
The first goal was realized when Colaco was brought down inside the Cambodian box by its defender Kok Boris resulting in the penalty that Chhetri scored.
AS IT HAPPENED: India vs Cambodia Highlights AFC Asian Cup qualifiers: Chhetri brace guides Blue Tigers to win in opening Group D match
India continued to press forward after the break as coach Igor Stimac brought in a couple of changes looking to make the team attack more effective. The arrival of forward Sahal Abdul Samad and winger Udanta Singh, who replaced the struggling Manvir Singh and Anirudh Thapa, pepped up the attack and paved the way for the second goal at the hour mark.
Chhetri was impeccable with his finishing this time as he nodded home a Brandon Fernandes cross to secure the Indian win and fetch his 82nd international goal.
The thousands packing the stands to cheer the home side had a lot of reason to celebrate as the country’s most prolific striker realized their hopes with a memorable performance.
India could well have enhanced its tally but after captain Chhetri was replaced midway through the second half, substitutes Sahal Abdul Samad and Ashique Kuruniyan failed to produce the finishing shown by their senior colleague.
A minor controversy hit the start of the match as the organisers failed to play the Cambodian national anthem forcing a seven-minute delay. There was a prolonged lull after the Indian anthem was played and both the teams waited anxiously on the pitch as the person operating the sound console failed to bring the Cambodian anthem live.
The issue was finally resolved when a Cambodian official came forward to have it played on his cell phone. This incident came after the Cambodian contingent complained to AFC about the organisers not getting their national flag to “exact specifications,” forcing the continental body to use the graphic of the proper flag on the giant screen.
Results from today's matches: