Anirudh Thapa scored an opportunistic goal to help India edge past Myanmar by a solitary goal in the first match of the Tri-Nation International Football tournament at the Khuman Lampak Stadium here on Wednesday.
The Indian win was celebrated by around 30000 fans, who packed the galleries to see the senior national men’s team making a winning start in its first appearance here.
The decisive lead at the end of the opening half came as a welcome relief for India, which had at least four clear chances previously but struggled to find the target. Thapa found his fourth international goal in first-half additional time when he moved up to reach a cross from Rahul Bheke. The midfielder was aided in his venture by the opposition defender Ye Min Thu, who miscued his clearance to offer the chance. Thapa punched it home to give the much-needed lead to the host.
Indian captain Sunil Chhetri, who was the only man from the ISL final making a start for India, looked out of sorts and failed to recall his usual sharpness on the opposition goalmouth. With India mobilising its attacks well, Chhetri struggled with his finishing.
The unavailability of a second specialist striker in the squad seemed to be prompting the Indian coach Igor Stimac to use the iconic Indian forward in the important position.
The 38-year-old striker did not abandon the search for his 85th international goal and came close to scoring it twice after the break. He was ruled off-side in the 74th minute when he diverted home a cross from Mehtab Singh. Chhetri was up again with a diving header in the 75th minute, but this time it was the Myanmar goalkeeper SannSat Naing who showed nice reflexes to save the situation for the visitor.
Stimac brought in some changes in the final quarter of the action, but that did not help increase the score-line. With Myanmar limiting itself to defending mostly, India put the opposition under pressure with persistent raids. Suresh Wangjam, who came in as a substitute around the hour mark, had a chance in the 85th minute.
However, his long-ranger was tipped over by Naing to keep the score-line unchanged. India almost paid the price of sitting on a slender lead in injury-time when substitute Myanmar forward Aung Kung Mann set up Lin Htet Soe with an open chance. The latter shot his attempted volley wide in haste to spoil the chance of finding a late equaliser.
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