AFC Asian Cup qualifier: Sunil Chhetri’s wonder goal downs Kyrgyz Republic | football | Hindustan Times
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AFC Asian Cup qualifier: Sunil Chhetri’s wonder goal downs Kyrgyz Republic

Sunil Chhetri scored a brilliant goal as India claimed the top spot in their AFC Asian Cup qualifier group after beating Kyrgyz Republic.

football Updated: Jun 13, 2017 23:54 IST
Dhiman Sarkar
India's captain Sunil Chhetri, second left, celebrates with teammates their win over Kyrgyz Republic in the AFC Asian Cup  qualifier.
India's captain Sunil Chhetri, second left, celebrates with teammates their win over Kyrgyz Republic in the AFC Asian Cup qualifier.(AP)

True, football celebrates collective effort and at its best is a symphony in studs. But once in a while, there comes a player who decides matches on his own. On Tuesday, that man answered to the name of Sunil Chhetri. His wonder goal helped India take a giant step towards the 2019 Asian Cup finals because Kyrgyz Republic couldn’t find a reply.

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India top Group A after two games with an all-win record, having beaten Myanmar in March. Two teams will go through to the finals in the UAE. Chhetri remains India’s only goal-scorer in the final round of qualifiers. Robin Singh could have altered that but lobbed over after Chhetri found him deep in second-half stoppage time of this encounter that was bruising at times but had both teams having their moments.

Sweet finish

Latching on to the ball from near India’s penalty box, Chhetri went past three players before finding Jeje Lalpekhlua and then sped in to meet the accurate return pass which he placed home in one fluid motion. It was an effort that will be talked about long after this campaign and many other campaigns end. Few will rightly remember that on either side of that 69th minute goal, Chhetri missed chances he would put away easily.

On a breezy evening, India weathered storms early and late in the first half but in between asked a few questions of their own. Between the 23rd and the 35th minutes, the hosts had four chances, and at the heart of all of them was Chhetri.

Wearing the armband as India trotted out in a new shade of blue, Chhetri looked the best player on the Kanteerava pitch on Tuesday night.

He found Jackichand Singh on the right for India’s first move but the medio lobbed over. Two minutes later, Chhetri showed good control and skill in the centre of the pitch to set a move going with Lalpekhlua but couldn’t end it with similar finesse.

Missed chances

Then, a smart interception from Holicharan Narzary found Chhetri on the break, but this time Lalpekhlua’s touch let him down. Four minutes later, in the 35th, Chhetri, seeing Kyrgyz Republic were not attentive, found Lalpekhlua with a throw but again the shot was too close to the big Kyrgyz shot-stopper Pavel Matiash.

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But the start and end of the first half were anything but positive for India. Gurpreet Singh Sandhu’s challenge on Anton Zemlianukhin sent him to the hospital and in the first quarter, after two direct attempts to find their strikers went awry, India couldn’t enter the rival front third. Kyrgyz Republic looked more organised in their build-up but their shooting let them down.

India began the second half like the White Falcons did the first but Lalpekhlua couldn’t slot it past Matiash. The story of the first half continued in reverse with Kyrgyz Republic hitting the upright through Akhlidin Israilov and in the 61st minute, forcing a goalline save from central defenders Anas Edathodika and Sandesh Jhingan.

Then came the goal worth braving the notorious Bangalore traffic to see.