India blanked Hong Kong scoring twice on either sides of the two halves for a 4-0 result in the concluding group D league fixture of the 2023 AFC Asian Cup qualifying final round at the Salt Lake Stadium on Tuesday.
This helped India become the group topper with nine points from three wins and secured its second consecutive Asian Cup main-round berth for the first time in the history of the tournament.
AS IT HAPPENED |
Hong Kong (six points) also made it to the final phase by becoming one of the best second finishers in the six groups in the final round of qualifying leg.
India picked up the goals at two ends of the opening half. Looking to secure the momentum early India went in the attack mode right after the kick-off and secured a corner with barely 30 seconds on the clock.
The home side opted for a short corner as Jeaskson Singh set up a sharp cross on the Hong Kong goalmouth. Ashique Kuruniyan saw his first attempt coming off an opposition defender before Anwar Ali picked up the rebound to find the top of the net.
The goal perked up the home side which went in search for more. It could have found the insurance goal in the 26 minute but Sahal Abdul Samad, the man who won it for India against Afghansitan, was a a tad unlucky finding his attempt coming off the crosspiece.
Hong Kong tried to come back in the match launching some good counter attacks but with the Indian defence offering no space in the box, the former did not get a clear look at the goal.
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India doubled the lead in the last minute of the first half thanks to a gem of a finish by Sunil Chhetri. The Indian captain went airbourne to receive a Jeakson Singh's free-kick and finished with a left-footed grounder to pick up his 84 international goal.
This tied him with the Hungarian legend Ferenc Puskas and took him to the fifth spot in the list of top international goal scorers.
Despite a torrential downpour hitting the venue towards the end of the opening half, Indians braved the conditions to keep its hold on the proceedings. Manvir Singh made it 3-0 in the 85 minute before getting in the role of a provider to set up Pandita to round off the scoring process in the injury-time (90+3).
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