India beat Guam to claim first World Cup qualifying win

India finally tasted victory after five straight losses in their 2018 football World Cup qualifying campaign as they beat Guam by a solitary goal in Bengaluru.

Robin Singh scored the only goal of the game in the 10th minute as India held on to claim a 1-0 over Guam.   -  K MURALI KUMAR

India overcame great odds to emerge 1-0 winners against Guam, their first victory in six 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers fixtures. Not only were the Indians up against a higher-ranker team, they also had to compete for nearly 45 minutes with only 10 men.

The home team now have their first points in the competition, but continue to remain at the bottom of Group D. Guam (seven points), meanwhile, are one place higher.

In a stunning opening sequence, India took the lead through Robin Singh in the 11th minute. Goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh launched a long goal-kick, and found skipper Sunil Chhetri open on the flank. Chhetri cut into the box, before relaying the ball to Robin. The striker received the pass with his back turn to goal, and spun around his marker to clear some space for himself. A shot came off his weaker right-foot, but the near-perfect curler nestled into the far top-corner.

Just before half-time, the Indians were struck a big blow when defender Sehnaj Singh was sent off. A high tackle and a collision brought an instant red card from the referee, forcing coach Stephen Constantine to change his approach. Players fell back in open play, and apart from the lone forward up front, the rest were called up to hold fort near goal.

Sandesh Jhingan held the defence together, breaking up forays with his physical, sturdy presence. The Guam side did not click as a unit on many occasions but kept searching for an equaliser. But they did not carry the threat of a team which played with the extra man.

There were, however, a few close shaves for the Indians. Defender Arnab Mondal - who for the most part stood firm - nearly put the ball in the back of his own net twice. Two headers during attempted clearances threatened to sneak in, but an alert Gurpreet was up to the task.

The custodian was called into action again in the 89th minute when Shawn Nicklaw struck well from close range, only for Gurpreet to make a fine low save.

The final whistle blew soon after, and despite being drenched in the persistent rains, the 6,000-odd spectators at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium went home a happy lot.