Stephen Constantine’s ‘Blue Tigers’ ended Mumbai’s long wait for an international game, and in style, defeating higher-ranked Puerto Rico 4-1 in an international friendly on Saturday.
The tiny nation of Puerto Rico may not be as good at football like its South American counterparts, but they are ranked 114th in the world, as against India’s 152nd place. They also like to pass the ball. But none of that mattered on the day at the Andheri Sports Complex, with India rallying from a 0-1 deficit, conceded through a penalty, to hit four past the visitors.
Forwards Sunil Chhetri and Jeje Lalpekhlua combined beautifully to keep Puerto Rico busy in their half, and also accounted for two goals, after Narayan Das equalised with a low drive from a rebound off the post. Jackichand Singh, whose mistake in the early minutes handed Puerto Rico the penalty, redeemed himself with great work on the left flank, and capped the night with a goal in the 57th minute.
The win would be a major boost for Constantine’s boys as they head to the Asian Cup qualifiers third round on their next international duty. The win would also help boost the team’s rankings.
On a personal note, the win marks a great start to captaincy for goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu. Constantine’s decision to hand him the armband underlines the Cypriot-Englishman’s confidence in India’s only player to ply his trade in a European league -- Sandhu plays for Norwegian club Stabaek.
It is a remarkable rise for the 24-year-old, who only made his international debut last year, in a game against Iran.
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India 4 (Narayan Das 19’, Sunil Chhetri 26’, Jeje Lalpekhlua 33’, Jackichand Singh 57’) v Puerto Rico 1 (M Sanchez-pen 8’)
Full-time: That’s then. A great night for India. Mumbai has been a great host.
9:52 pm: A delayed update this, but we are not convinced about this AIFF tweet. Be your own judge.
9:47 pm: The clock is running down. Puerto Rico appear to have made peace with the scoreline.
9:39 pm: Mumbai hasn’t matched Bengaluru, yet not bad for a city known more for its love for cricket. Here is our correspondent from Ground Zero.
9:32 pm: Sumit Passi was released there for a counter-attack. He, however, lacked the close-control to beat the defenders one-on-one. The tame shot was never going to trouble the goalkeeper.
9:31 pm: That was close. The upright saves India. The defence went on a nap, clearly taking comfort from the 4-1 lead.
9:28 pm: Jeje is off, and on comes Sumit Passi. A round of applause for Jeje; combined beautifully with Sunil Chhetri up front in the first half.
9:24 pm: Lovely control by Sunil Chhetri there. Drops the ball dead with his chest. Jackie’s long-range shot, however, was saved by the goalkeeper. “Theatrical,” screams the broadcast commentator.
9:17 pm: 4-1. Terrific stuff from India. Lyngdoh leaps to head the ball across the face of the goal. Jackie was on the spot to glide it past the goalkeeper. A great team goal. Coach Constantine would be proud of that. Straight from training ground to match day, that.
9:15 pm: Jackie has moved in to partner Jeje, with Narzary taking care of the left flank. The latter cross, however, found no one except the Puerto Rican goalkeeper.
9:11 pm: Holicharan Narzary comes on for India. An exciting prospect he is.
9:08 pm: Jackie lets it fly. However, it went straight to the goalkeeper. A good lay off by Jeje there, albeit it appeared more like a heavy first touch. Nevertheless, it fell perfectly for Jackie, who had drifted in.
9:04 pm: Second half about to start here. Puerto Rico have changed their goalkeeper. The old chap appears to have his morale down.
8:57 pm: Dear Bachchan Junior, we are glad you made it to the Andheri Sports Complex to support our boys, but maybe you should have worn a national team jacket than a Chennaiyin FC one? We know you are passionate about your club, but still.
Half-time: It could not have got better for India, a 3-1 lead after conceding through a penalty. Sunil Chhetri, Jeje and Narayan with the goals. Jackie, whose mistake led to the penalty, has redeemed himself with some good work on the left flank; lovely turns and acceleration to pressure Puerto Rico there. Captain Gurpreet too made his presence felt; astute on dealing with corners. Gurpreet also stretched to keep Puerto Rico away with a toe-to-ball save in the first half. On the other side, Jeje and Chhetri are having a good time up front. Lyngdoh did well to pick them with a few lofted balls, so has Das.
8:48 pm: That was neat by Gurpreet. The captain bypasses almost the entire field to pick Jackie up front. His curved shot, however, could not beat the Puerto Rico goalkeeper.
8:47 pm: Good work by Jhingan there. He has looked good so far.
8:40 pm:Those lofted balls from the midfield are doing India good. Clearly, Constantine knows a thing or two about Puerto Rico. This time though, Jeje was offside.
8:35 pm:3-1!! Tonight’s gonna be a good night. Jeje heads in the ball after a brilliant headed lay off by Sunil Chhetri. Great combination work by India’s front two. Did anyone say India have a vertical disadvantage up front?
8:34 pm:Good work by Jackie. Great turn and run. The cross too was on the spot. Jeje, however, couldn’t keept it down. It is still 2-1 in India’s favour.
8:27 pm: On the other end, the toes of captain Gurpreet keeps the lead intact. Close one that.
8:26 pm:What a goal! Chhetri does a Cristiano Ronaldo from the spot. Drives in low through the porous Puerto Rican defensive wall.
8:22 pm:The broadcast commentators still can’t digest Gurpreet being named as captain. They have been on it for the past half an hour. They wanted the armband around Chhetri’s arm. Hey pals, need Constantine’s number?
8:20 pm:India equalise. Narayan Das drives in the rebound from a Sunil Chhetri free-kick. Not the prettiest of goals you would see, but we reckon Constantine will take it.
8:18 pm: Meanwhile, Cult of Gaurav (don’t ask us), has noted something:
8:14 pm:Chhetri runs into the opposition goalkeeper while tracking a lofted ball. The keeper is down, but recovers in no time.
8:12 pm:A short corner by India. A good attempt, but to no avail.
8:09 pm:Puerto Rico open the tally with a neat penalty. It was a silly mistake by Jackichand. Just as we underlined him as the key to India, he brings down an opposition forward inside the box while on his defensive duty. Sloppy.
8:07 pm:India took their time, but are gradually getting into the game here. Jackichand on the left flank could be the key unlock the Puerto Rico defence. Jacki has not had a good run of matches with the national team, but has found his form of late. He would be keen to cement his place ahead of the Asian Cup.
8:01 pm:And we are on!
8:01 pm: Sifting through the betting websites, India are favoured to win this game. Good that. With the kind of form striker Jeje Lalpekhlua has been of late, that shouldn’t be surprising. The strong and muscular forward is the perfect foil for the drifting style of Suni Chhetri. That Puerto Rico haven’t send their strongest side is also a plus.
7:55 pm: Mumbaikars haven’t made it to the Andheri Sports Complex in huge numbers yet. Considering it is the first international game in the city in over six decades, that is a bit of a dampener. We hope the fans are delayed due to the traffic rather than skipping the game altogether.
7:51 pm:“He deserves it after what he has done in the last two or three years. He is the future,” says Stephen Constantine on his choice of captain, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu.
7:42 pm:Defenders Sandesh Jhingan and Arnab Mondal will have to be on their toes today, the South American side, though ranked outside 100, can string a good number of passes.
7: 32 pm: Here is the squad: