India thrashes Puerto Rico 4-1

India overcame a seventh minute goal by the visiting side to slam four in a row, marking a happy return to action for Mumbai fans after 61 years. Sunil Chhetri showcased his nose for space and ability to create goals from setpieces.

Sunil Chhetri scored one goal before laying on the assist for another.   -  K. Murali Kumar

Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, wearing the captain’s armband for India, saw his forwardline run Puerto Rico ragged in a 4-1 win for the home team in an international friendly match at the Mumbai Sports Arena. The blue shirts overcame a seventh minute goal against them to slam four in a row, marking a happy return to action for Mumbai fans after 61 years.

With 6,894 fans present at the floodlit Andheri Sports Complex, Sunil Chhetri showcased his nose for space and ability to create goals from set-pieces.

Puerto Rico did not put a man on the Indian striker, who scored once and kept curling free-kicks around the wall and into the corners. He got an ovation when replaced in the second half, raising his hands in response.

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The other scorers were Narayan Das, Jeje Lalpekhlua and Jackichand Singh. India, ranked 154th on the FIFA list, suffered early match jitters before turning on pressure in humid conditions in the Mumbai suburb. Puerto Rico (114 ranked and more experienced) looked to be feeling the effects of jet-lag and never dominated the game at any stage.

The home team was at the receiving end from the whistle, seven minutes into the game, as captain Gurpreet's goal was breached.

Emmanuel Sanchez slotted home to the right corner, converting a penalty awarded for a foul by Jackichand.

After initial jitters, India got down to testing the rival defence with shallow passes down the left flank. Puerto Rico conceded a free-kick in the 18th minute, Chhetri got the ball around the wall, goalkeeper Johny Santana was beaten, but the post came in the way.

Narayan Das brought the roaring crowd to its feet by beating the opposition to the loose ball and tapping the rebound in.

Chhetri got into the act again for India’s second goal. The striker won a free-kick just outside the 18-yard box, which he slammed into the post before the ball rolled in.

Jeje got into position to pull the trigger after Jackichand streaked down the left, put in a delicious cross and Chhetri let the ball roll on. Santana’s late reaction to a 34th-minute move proved costly, Jeje headed in after the rival custodian had dealt with a Chhetri try.

Puerto Rico replaced sleep-walking custodian Santana, whose sluggish reflexes forced the visitors on the defensive after the first burst of energy dissipated.

Home team coach Stephen Constantine effected two changes, taking out Bikash Jairu and Pronoy Halder for Holicharan Nazary and Rowlin Borges respectively.

India sealed the game with a fourth goal, the first after resumption.

Jeje floated the ball in, Eugeneson Lyngdoh barged in for an attempt, mistimed his shot only to see teammate Jackihand fire home. Substitutes Holicharan Nazary and Seityasen Singh also tested the rival custodian.

The result: India 4 (Narayan Das 18, Sunil Chhetri 24, Jeje Lalpeklhua 34, Jackichand Singh 58) bt Puerto Rico 1 (Emmanuel Sanchez 7 pen).