GUWAHATI: Mission accomplished! India achieved their ‘mission’ when they qualified for the Qualifiers for the AFC 2019 Asian Cup UAE defeating Laos 6-1 in the second leg of the play-offs at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Sajusarai, Guwahati on Tuesday (June 7).
Stephen Constantine’ boys won 7-1 on aggregate after having won the first leg by a solitary goal in Vientiane, India’s first-ever win in an away Qualifier since 2001.
Injuries to as many as six Players who ‘may have started,’ – Robin Singh, Pronay Halder, Rowlin Borges, Bikash Jairu, Cavin Lobo and Dhanpal Ganesh couldn’t deter the spirits of the Men in Blue. In the process, Keegan Pererira was handed his International debut by Constantine, the 27th Player to have debuted under him, in the last 15 matches that he has been in charge; and then Cardozo became the 28th Player to dbut under Constantine and repayed his gaffer by scoring off a header.
India came from a goal down to register a convincing win as strikes from from Jeje Lalpekhlua (43rd and 73rd minute), Sumeet Passi (45th minute), Sandesh Jhingan (48th minute) , Md. Rafique (85th minute) and debutant Fulganco Cardozo (89th minute) handed the ‘Men in Blue’ a 6-1 win in the 2nd leg, after Laos took the lead in the 16th minute through Khonesavanh Sihavong.
However, it were the ‘Men in Blue’ who threatened the Laotian citadel from the opening minutes of the match, despite conceding early.
Three minutes after conceding, India had a glorious chance to equalize proceedings when Jeje’s followed-up on an uncanny save by the Laotian keeper. Jeje’s cheeky attempt at goal however went whiskers wide of the goal as Laos survived.
Soon after, Sunil Chhetri breezed past his marking defender onto the Laotian goal but was caught in defensive traffic before he could attempt a shot.
In the 41st minute, Eugeneson’s long pass found Jeje clear of the mix, but the Mizo striker instead of raking up a shot, passed it to an onrushing Sumeet Passi, who failed to apply the finishing touch.
Coach Constantine made his first substitution in the 41st minute when he brought Jackichand Singh on for Udanta Singh. Two minutes later, India equalized their deficit when Jeje capitalized on an uncanny clearance inside the Laos 18 yard box and slotted it home to make the scoreline read 1-1.
The Indian attacking juggernaut still had a lot to say before the half ended and right at the stroke of half-time India surged ahead into the lead as Sumeet Passi tapped home substitute Jackichand’s cross from the left flank to make the scoreline read 2-1.
The ‘Men in Blue’ continued with their attacking momentum in the second half and in the 46th minute Passi’s volley, after he latched onto a chested ball by Jeje, earned a diving save from the Laotian custodian.
Two minutes later, India doubled their lead as Sandesh Jhingan’s header crept into the bottom left corner after he made contact with a delicious Eugeneson free-kick from outside the box.
Laos tried to catch the Indian defence napping shortly after, but astute defending from Sandesh Jhingan and Gurpreet Singh Sandhu’s safe hands kept the Laotian attacks at bay.
India sealed the fixture in the 75th minute, when Jeje was released onto goal by Passi’s through ball, and the Mizo striker comfortably placed it past the Laotian custodian to give India a three goal advantage as the scoreline read 4-1.
Shortly after, Jeje’s bullet head whizzed past the post as Laos scrambled to regain momentum.
India added more gloss to the scoreline in the 85th minute when Rafique’s attempt from inside the box saw the light of day. Debutant Flugano Cardozo’s flying header in the 89th minute extended the goal differential further as the full-time scoreline read 6-1 in India’s favour.
INDIA Starting XI against Laos: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu; Rino Anto, Arnab Mondal, Sandesh Jhingan, Keegan Pereira (debut for India – 508th Player to play for India) (73’ – Fulganco Cardozo – 509th Player to play for India); Udanta Singh (41’ – Jackichand Singh), Eugeneson Lyngdoh (81’ – Alwyn George), Md. Raffique, Sunil Chhetri (Captain), Jeje Lalpekhlua, Sumeet Passi.
Scores: India 6 (Jeje Lalpekhlua 43’ 75’, Sumeet Passi 45’, Sandesh Jhingan 48’, Md. Rafique 85’, Fulganco Cardozo 89’) beat Laos 1 (Khonesavanh Sihavong 16’)
By Joseph Solomon,
AIFF Media Team