India thrashes Laos, books Asian Cup Qualifiers berth

India trailed 0-1 in the 16th minute through a Khonesavanh Sihavong strike but replied in a remarkable fashion as it dominated all through the remaining part of the match, pumping in six goals to walk away with an easy win.

India's Jeje Lalpekhlua (R) and Sumeet Passi celebrate after scoring against Laos in the AFC Asian Cup qualifier in Guwahati.   -  Ritu Raj Konwar

Striker Jeje Lalpekhlua scored twice as India recovered from a one-goal deficit to thrash Laos 6-1 in one of its biggest ever wins and book a berth in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup football Qualifiers here today.

India trailed 0-1 in the 16th minute through a Khonesavanh Sihavong strike but replied in a remarkable fashion as it dominated all through the remaining part of the match, pumping in six goals - including three in seven minutes - to walk away with an easy win.

Jeje Lalpekhlua (42nd and 74th minute), Sumeet Passi (45th), Sandesh Jhingan (49th), Mohd. Rafique (83rd) and debutant Fulganco Cardozo (87th) were the goal-getters for India in the second leg of the AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers play-off match at the Indira Gandhi Athletics Stadium.

India won the home and away tie 7-1 on aggregate to book a berth in the AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers. It had beaten Laos 1-0 in the first leg in Vientiane on June 2. This was one of the biggest ever wins for India.

The victory and a berth in the Asian Cup Qualifiers will ease a lot of pressure on coach Stephen Constantine whose future has been under a scanner after a string of poor shows by the national team.

India took some time to settle down in the match played under slippery conditions and Laos was the better side in the initial 15 minutes. The visiting side created problems for the Indian defence from the right flank in this period.

India paid the price of relying on the off-side trap as Sihavong found himself unmarked inside the box and he sent a low left footer past Indian goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu to the stunned silence of a sparse crowd at the stadium.

Jolted by the early reverse, India regrouped and began dictating terms. Just three minutes after the goal, Jeje had a chance to restore parity but his shot after a rebound from the goalkeeper went wide.

In the 21st minute, captain Sunil Chhetri thought he won a penalty after he was grounded inside the Laos penalty box but the referee had other ideas.

The game changing moment came in the 41st minute with coach Constantine replacing young Udanta Singh by Jackichand Singh who turned the match on its head with India pumping in three goals in the space of seven minutes to open the floodgates.

India found the equaliser three minutes before half-time with Jackichand, with his first touch, sent a fine cross from the right and the ball fell to Jeje after a dummy was sold by Passi inside the Laos box. Mizoram striker Jeje chested the ball down before slotting home past the Laos goalkeeper to the wild cheer of the home supporters.

At the stroke of half-time, India took the lead with Passi, playing in his second international match, sending the ball into the empty net off a low cross from Jackichand from the left. This was Passi’s first international goal.

India continued its domination in the second half with central defender Jhingan entering his name in the scoresheets seven minutes after resumption as his header off a Eugenson Lyngdoh free-kick beat the Laos defenders and the goalkeeper all ends up.

With a 3-1 lead, India had taken the game away from the visitor’s reach but it did not relax a bit and scored three more goals against a hapless Laos to win the match in a tennis-like score and with one of the biggest margins in recent memory.

Jeje, who has been in the form of his life, scored his second goal of the match, as he received a beautifully weighted pass from Chhetri and sent a powerful grounder past the Laos goalkeeper into the bottom left corner of the net.

Passi made it 5-1 for India six minutes from the regulation time as his shot from the edge of the box off another Chhetri assist beat the Laos goalkeeper.

Cardoza completed the rout and the misery for Laos as he headed into the net off another assist from Jackichand three minutes before the final whistle.

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