Five uncapped players added wings to Stephen Constantine's new-look Indian football team. But it was experienced striker Sunil Chhetri who kept India's 2018 World Cup hopes alive with a double strike in the first of two qualifiers against Nepal in Guwahati on Thursday.
The 2-0 victory came on a day when India slipped to their lowest Fifa ranking of 173 but it was the perfect start for Constantine's second stint as India coach and for the national team's new skipper Subrata Pal.
After a fairly sedate first half during which Robin Singh missed three chances, India stepped up the pressure soon after the breather. Sunil scored his 75th goal for India with a left-footer to take India 1-0 up in the 53rd minute. His second was a right footer in the 70th.
Sunil could have made a hat-trick after Cavin Peter Lobo was brought down in the box. Nepal goalie Kiran Kumar Limbu dived right to save the shot.
"The scoreline could have read better, but this win gives us an edge," Man of the Match Sunil said.
Constantine was happy with the performance of his team. "But there are some niggles we have to work on."
The match saw two players from each side - India's Pritam Kotal and Saumik Dey and Nepal's Jagajeet Shrestha and Sandip Rai - receiving yellow cards.
Saumik was one of three debutants in the playing 11, the others being Sandesh Jhingan and Meghalaya's Eugeneson Lyngdoh. The northeast was also represented by midfielder Larlindika Ralte of Mizoram, who had made his India debut in the 2013 Saff championship against Afghanistan.
Manipur's Telem Jackichand Singh, who substituted Ralte in the 62nd minute, and Assam's Holicharan Narzary, who substituted Robin in the 87th, could barely show their skills. But their brief appearances betrayed Constantine's plans for taking Indian football to the next level.
Football players from the northeast - mostly Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Sikkim - form the backbone of most Indian clubs. They also represent other states.
"The image of the northeast takes a beating when incidents like the lynching of a rape-accused in Dimapur (Nagaland) happen. But our sportspersons are showing what we are capable of," Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi said.
India: Subrata Paul (Captain and Goalkeeper), Pritam Kotal, Arnab Mondal, Sandesh Jhingan, Shaumik Dey, Francis Fernandes, Lenny Rodrigues, Eugeneson Lyngdoh, Lalrindika Ralte (Jackichand Singh 57th), Sunil Chhetri, Robin Singh (Holicharan Narzary 91st).