SAFF Ch’ship: Robin Singh saves India the blushes

Robin Singh’s brace (51st and 74th) saved India the blushes against an overtly defensive Sri Lankan side. The margin of victory could have been higher for India but Sri Lankan captain and goalkeeper Don Sujan Perera was virtually unbeatable under the bar.

Robin Singh tries to get past the Sri Lankan defence.   -  PTI

Striker Robin Singh did the star turn for host India as they kick started their campaign with a patchy 2-0 win over Sri Lanka in the SAFF Suzuki Cup football championship at the Greenfield stadium here on Friday.

Robin Singh’s brace (51st and 74th) saved India the blushes against an overtly defensive Sri Lankan side. The margin of victory could have been higher for India but Sri Lankan captain and goalkeeper Don Sujan Perera was virtually unbeatable under the bar. He made at least five good saves and Indian striker Jeje was denied at least thrice by Perera.

Coach Constantine made four changes in the Indian team that played against Guam in the World Cup qualifiers in November. Jeje, Pronoy Haider, Sanju Pradhan and Augustin Fernandez were drafted into the team but the new look side didn’t have to spend much time to strike rhythm. The hosts started well, earning a couple of corners and free kicks inside the first five minutes.

Captain Sunil Chettri had a header saved early by Sujan in the sixth minute. The Sri Lankan captain then had to come out of his guard to deny Jeje Lalpekhlua in the 10th minute after the striker was put through by Eugeneson Lyngdoh.

Thereafter, Sri Lanka employed the same tactics they had used so successfully against Nepal in the opening match. They became overtly defensive and made no attempts to launch an attack at the Indian goal. To their credit, Sri Lanka defended well and whenever India managed a shy at the goal, Sujan Perera thwarted them. Jeje was in thick of action in the 30th minute when his shot was fisted away for a corner by Perera.

The majority of the Indian attacks came from the right flank where Pronay Halder and Pritam Kotal worked hard to feed the strikers but they could not breach Perera and his back four in the first half.

However, in the second half India’s first worthwhile move from the left flank, broke the deadlock. Eugeneson found Sunil Chhetri on the left flank and the Indian captain hoodwinked two defenders and centred to Robin Singh who scored from close.

Perera made two good saves in succession to prevent Indians from increasing the lead. The Sri Lankan captain first parried away a stiff shot from Sanju and recovered in time to block the rebound from Eugeneson. In the 68th minute, Sanju Pradhan’s long ball into the Sri Lankan box was connected by Jeje with a header but Perera made a reflex save.

However, Perera’s heroics ended when Chhetri again found Robin Singh unmarked inside the box. The striker made no mistake with his shot but Robin injured himself and had to be substituted. The Indians pressed hard for the third goal but failed to beat Lankan defence. Sri Lanka completed their league engagements in Group ‘A’ with three points but will have to wait for the final match in the group between India and Nepal on Sunday to know their fate.