India notched an easy 2-0 win against Mongolia 2-0 to begin its Intercontinental Cup on a confident note at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneshwar on Friday.
The host could have produced a bigger margin of a win but failed to find the finishing that it had managed in the first-half
India established its superiority right in the second minute when Sahal Abdul Samad bulged the net with an angular finish following up an Anirudh Thapa cross that was partially cleared by the Mongolian goalkeeper Enkhtaivan. This set the tempo for the next half an hour as India utilised the flanks to pin the Mongolians back in their defence.
The host was rewarded for its efforts in the 14th minute when Thapa, from the corner, set the ball right in the middle of the opposition box. Sandesh Jinghan replied with a sharp header just to find the Mongolian midfielder Batbold guarding the goalmouth. The clearance was availed by Lallianzuala Chhangte, who was in the right position to slot it home.
With its opponent not getting much in the way of attack, the Indian resolve seemed to flag a bit after the second goal. This perhaps came from a realisation of preserving their energies as the players found it difficult in the sweltering conditions prevailing at the venue.
The cooling breaks opted for by the teams could not infuse the energy seeing the attacks drying up. India came close to scoring twice again in the 39th and 40 minutes when captain Sunil Chhetri set up Samad twice on top of the box. But the gritty midfielder found both his efforts going to waste. Mongolia had a clear claim for a penalty when Indian centre-back Anwar Ali dispossessed its striker Batmunkh when the latter seemed to have gone in with a nice first touch. India escaped as the referee had a different interpretation of the challenge.
The second session failed to produce anything extraordinary as India wasted three more chances. Indian head coach Igor Stimac opted to rotate the side, including players like Nikhil Poojari, Samad and Udanta Singh, who returned to the national side after a break.
The second half could have seen the Indian scoreline going up but for the lack of alertness of its attackers. The host had two clear chances in the final quarter of the action involving its substitutes as Stimac chose to bring in fresh legs midway through the second half.
Rohit Kumar, who replaced Udanta, saw his header coming off the crosspiece in the 81st minute when Thapa set his free-kick right at the Mongolia goalmouth. The second opportunity came in the 89th minute when a nice exchange between the subs Rohit and Naorem Mahesh Singh saw Rahim Ali, another late substitute, getting the ball unmarked inside the box. But the latter could not control the ball to beat Enkhtaivan in the Mongolian goal.
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