Life comes full circle for Lallianzuala Chhangte with his goal in Intercontinental Cup 2023

The Mumbai City winger was one of the goalscorers in India’s opener against Mongolia in the Intercontinental Cup which the Blue Tigers won comfortably.

Published : Jun 10, 2023 16:44 IST , Bhubaneswar - 4 MINS READ

Chhangte celebrates scoring for India in the match against Mongolia.
Chhangte celebrates scoring for India in the match against Mongolia. | Photo Credit: AIFF MEDIA

Chhangte celebrates scoring for India in the match against Mongolia. | Photo Credit: AIFF MEDIA

“In football, just like in real life, there’s a thing called chance,” former German international Oliver Kahn said in a documentary named This is Football – something that decides a team’s faith, a football project and sometimes, even the entire career of footballers.

And that, a chance is all it took for Indian winger Lallianzuala Chhangte to embellish his name as the key winger in the national team.

Scoring an international goal after four years, India’s second against Mongolia, Chhangte helped the Blue Tigers win the game 2-0 at the Kalinga Stadium in their Intercontinental Cup opener on Friday.

In the 15th minute, Anirudh Thapa’s corner kick – a right-footed curler – was headed on target by Sandesh Jhingan but Mongolia’s Batboldyn Baljinnyam made a crucial block.

Chhangte barged in, right in front of the opponent goalie Mönkh-Erdene Enkhtaivan, struck with the outside of his right boot to see the ball rattle the net. He kissed his knuckle and lifted his arms in a Lionel Messi-esque celebration, ending his goal drought, as the fans applauded from the stands.

His last goal for India, interestingly, had come in the last edition of the same tournament, the Intercontinental Cup, in 2019, against North Korea. Life has come full circle for the winger after the goal in the same tournament, four years later.

“It was great,” Chhangte told Sportstar in the mixed zone after the game, with a grin, “It’s important that we continue this performance with the national team. Tonight, I was not doing that well, personally, but I got a lot of help from the team. So, credit goes to them.”

Chhangte has had a rollercoaster of a career since 2019.

He was rejected twice by the Norwegian side Vikings FC in its trials. He returned to India, shining with Chennaiyin FC in the first season but eventually, failed to maintain consistency in the next two campaigns.

In his two-and-half seasons with Chennaiyin (from 2019), he had seven goals in his first Indian Super League (ISL) season -- the same number of goal contributions in the remaining span (five goals, two assists) -- before he was loaned to Mumbai City FC.

The 26-year-old has not looked back since, having scored 18 goals and assisting nine more in all competitions for Des Buckingham’s side in the 2022-23 domestic season.

Chhangte in action in the Intercontinental match against Mongolia.
Chhangte in action in the Intercontinental match against Mongolia. | Photo Credit: BISWARANJAN ROUT

Chhangte in action in the Intercontinental match against Mongolia. | Photo Credit: BISWARANJAN ROUT

With 16 goal contributions (10 goals, six assists) in ISL, he was the Indian with the most goal contributions in the league last season.

The Islanders became the only side to win two ISL League Winners’ Shields with him along the wings while he won his ISL Golden Ball – the best player of the 2022-23 season.

In the Tri-Nation series, though he did not get a goal, his presence along the flanks earned him another Player of the Tournament award as India won the series, beating Kyrgyzstan 2-0.

“He works so hard on a daily basis. You should make a movie about him as he’s an inspiration for future generations, who are coming up and knocking on the door of the senior team. They should learn from him on what it takes to be a professional,” India’s head coach Igor Stimac said in the post-match press conference.

India’s both goals came with quick decision-making, punishing Mongolia for not clearing the second balls. Sahal Abdul Samad scored the first goal after a cross by Thapa was parried out while Chhangte’s strike came after a save off Jhingan’s header.

“He (Stimac) was encouraging us to press high and score a goal as quickly as we can and I think that helped us win the game,” Chhangte said, explaining the strategy.

“They were a very good side defensively, they had five (players) at the back. So, the early goals that we scored helped us win the game.”

The Blue Tigers will take on Vanuatu on Monday (June 12) and Lebanon on June 15. While the winger thought they should have capitalised more on the chances, he is nevertheless looking ahead with a comfortable win.

“It’s important to start a tournament on a good note and we did that. We could have done so much more, in terms of decision-making in the final third but the three points would give us motivation for the next game,” he said.

You need to fall before rising again. Who would know it better than Chhangte?

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