SAFF Cup: Robin's brace help India beat Sri Lanka 2-0

SAFF Suzuki Cup 2015 India vs Sri LankaTRIVANDRUM: On Christmas day, it was jingle all the way for India as the Blue Tigers defeated Sri Lanka 2-0 in their first match of the SAFF Suzuki Cup 2015 at the Trivandrum International Stadium in Kerala.

The Indian contingent dominated possession, shots on goals and corners and ran out eventual winners courtesy of a Robin Singh brace, whilst grabbing three points in the process sending them to top of Group A.

With the fans hollering the ‘Men in Blue’ through with chants of “India, India”, the Indian contingent attacked right from the word ‘go’. As early as the 3rd minute, India were awarded an opportunity to open their goal scoring tally as Pritam Kotal earned a free-kick right on the edge of the penalty box after the Lankan defence line handed the ball. A Eugeneson Lyngdoh shot from the resulting free-kick came close to opening India’s lead as it went abegging of the goal.

Minutes later, Sunil Chhetri, after cutting in from the left flank released Sanju Pradhan onto goal. Sanju essayed in a delightful cross for the Indian attack line to capitalize on, but the Lankan defence line swept it away.

A thumping Sunil Chhetri header which followed almost seconds later from a cross from the right flank earned a top-draw save from the Lankan Goalkeeper.

Perhaps the best chance of the first half fell to Jeje in the 9th minute, when he went one-versus-one with the Lankan custodian, after latching onto a Eugeneson Lyngdoh pass. Jeje in an attempt to chip the onrushing custodian got rejected with yet another last ditch save from Perera.

Although India had the better of the two Teams in the opening minutes of the match, the score-line reflected the contrary as it still read 0-0, even after 3 clear goal scoring chances.

With Gurpreet Singh Sandhu not even called to action and enjoying the view from afar, the Indian attack line cut through the Lankan defence line like knife on butter. In the 33rd minute, Jeje once again made contact with a delicious cross from the right flank, only to earn a corner kick in the process.

Three minutes later, Sunil Chhetri cut inside from the left flank after taking a well-weighted through ball into his stride and unleashed a venomous shot. The shot however, got defused by the Lankan defenders earned the ‘Men in Blue’ a corner kick.

The first half undoubtedly belonged to India and had the forwards had their goal-scoring boards on, the score-line would’ve reflected differently. However with nothing to flaunt for their attacking prowess, courtesy of some last ditch defending from Sri Lanka, the score-line reflected 0-0 at halftime.

The 15 minute interval failed to dampen the attacking momentum of the ‘Men in Blue’, as they got right into the thick of action. A Sanju Pradhan cross from the left flank minutes into the second half earned a corner for the Indian contingent. A scrambling save from Perera from the resulting corner although cleared the danger away.

With the Indian contingent attacking in numbers and with fluidity the break-through was bound to come. And the deadlock did break in the 51st minute when Robin Singh blasted his shot home following a Sunil Chhetri low-cross from the left flank, as India took a 1-0 lead.

Shortly after, Jeje was handed an opportunity to double India’s lead as he went one on one with the Goalkeeper following a Sanju Pradhan cross, but the former was flagged offside.

In the 67th minute, Robin Singh once again found himself right in the thick of action as he tried a cheeky header, but it lacked conviction and the Sri Lankan custodian cleared it up. Two minutes later, Jeje was handed with a glorious opportunity to give India a two goal cushion as a Sanju Pradhan cross found him clear of the mix. Jeje although headed the ball with venom, the Lankan custodian made another outstanding save to deny India.

It was the deadly combination of Sunil Chhetri and Robin Singh again which doubled India’s lead. Chhetri released Robin onto goal with a deft header and the latter applied a cheeky finish to make it 2-0 for India.

With Coach Constantine’ motto being ‘constructing a Team for the future’, 18 year old AIFF U-18 Academy product, Lallianzuala made his debut for India as he came on for Robin Singh in the 74th minute.

The ‘Men in Blue’ grew even hungrier after scoring two and tested Perera with almost every shot – be it from inside or outside the box. And it was the 18 year old Lallianzuala who decided to run through the Sri Lankan defence line as he showcased his bag full of tricks. Lallianzuala however in the 85th minute was only able to earn a fine save from the Lankan goalkeeper.

Shortly after, Lallianzuala burst onto a vacant left flank and fed Sunil Chhetri with a delightful cross. Chhetri however ran into the onrushing Goalkeeper as another opportunity went abegging.

Although the Indian contingent searched for a third goal, it never came as at the end of time, the full-time scoreline read 2-0.

INDIA starting XI against Sri Lanka: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu; Pritam Kotal, Augistine Fernandes, Arnab Mondal, Narayan Das; Sanju Pradhan 71’ – Bikash Jairu), Eugenson Lyngdoh, Pronoy Halder (45’ – Rowlin Borges), Sunil Chhetri (Captain); Robin Singh (74’ – Lallianzuala), Jeje Lalpekhlua.
By Joseph Solomon,
AIFF Media Team