It's quite sad that a sizeable audience stayed away from the Yuba Bharati Krirangan which hosted a riveting tie between India and Malaysia on Wednesday that ended 3-2 in the home side's favour. The 20,000-strong crowd that assembled at the first leg in Guwahati would perhaps have been more appreciative of the performance that coach Savio Medeira's men put up ahead of next month's Saff Cup.
Strikers Sunil Chhetri and Jeje Lalpekhlua were unstoppable and if there was someone from Rangers FC present in the paltry turnout, the team would have got a positive feedback ahead of their yet-undecided stint in Scotland. Rocus Lamare and Baldeep Singh held fort in the middle of the pitch while Francis Fernandes impressed down the right.
Malaysia looked the more comfortable side for the first 30 minutes. Much-touted forward Safee Sali started this time around and his class, by way of a brace, was evident for all to see. However, India broke the deadlock in the 39th minute through Chhetri. The diminutive striker appeared to be offside but the assistant-referee allowed him to superbly latch on to Baldeep's high-ball which should have been cleared by centre-back Aadil Razak.
Sali equalised a minute before the breather. A cross by Safiq Rahim was laid off for him by Shahurain Samah on the right and the striker dribbled past Anwar Ali before beating keeper Subhashish Roy Chowdhury to score. Lalapekhlua scored a minute into the second-half. Just nine minutes after the scoreline read 2-1, the Chhetri earned his brace, combining again with Lalpekhlua and Fernandes whose cross into the box began the move. As Lalpekhlua scuttled his touch, the ball fell to Chhetri who somehow put it in the back of the net.
Malaysia, however, were not going to make it a cakewalk for the Indians and Sali gave the visitors a glimmer of hope when he controlled a defence-splitting Safiq through-ball to finish past Roy Chowdhury in the 59th minute.
But the game was concentrated in midfield after that with both sides exchanging quick passes but being unable to finish, save Chhetri's stellar 69th-minute run which including a crisp one-two with Lalpekhlua, when custodian Jeevantham Gunasekaran valiantly dived to stop his powerful angled shot.
Result: INDIA 3 (Chhetri 39', 54'; Lalpekhlua 46'); Malasia 2 (Sali 44', 59')