Thiruvananthapuram:Â India came out triumphant against a defensively stubbornÂ Sri Lanka as a brace from forward Robin Singh powered the hosts to a 2-0 win in their opening clash of the 2015 SAFF Cup at the Trivandrum International Stadium on Friday.
The Bengaluru FC and Delhi Dyanmos forward scored twice in the second half before being substituted due to a nasty looking leg injury.
Head coach Stephen Constantine stayed true to his word about bleeding the young ones in the tournamentÂ as the talismanic Indian captain Sunil Chhetri was the only one above the age of 30, while four players were handed starts who were 23 or below. Gurpreet Singh Sandhu predictably got the nod ahead of veteran custodian Subrata Paul.
India started out confidently, with Chhetri looking lively and Sanju Pradhan making deep runs from the right. Chhetri often drifted in from left and India enjoyed much of the possession for the first 10 minutes of the game.
Chhetri almost headed in home for India off a cross from Sanju from the right in the fifth minute, but the keeper managed to push the effort away for a corner.
Jeje came close to breaking the deadlock in the tenth minute when Lyngdoh lobbed him through on goal, but the Chennaiyin FC star forward Â waited too long to pull the trigger and clashed with the onrushing goalkeeper Don Sujan Perera in the penalty box.
Sanju looked eager on the right flank early on and India created a lot of chances from the area, with many crosses fired in but most of them lackedÂ accuracy, often hitting the first defender.
MakingÂ four changes in the squad from the opening game against Nepal, Sri Lanka again put out a wall in front of their defensive third and lacked any intention of going on the offensive and catching India off-guard. Gurpreet could have caught a nap on the field and still not be in trouble.
By the 20 minute mark, India didn’t have much to show for their possession apart from two clear chances to score. The men in blue seemed to be lacking creativity with almost no build-up play in the midfield and instead opting for the pre-historic run-to-the-flank-put-a-ball-in approach, hoping someone in the crowded box would send it into the net. And with most of the movement happening on the right, Chhetri seemed almost unused on the left of the field.
Barely a minute after the half-hour mark, Jeje again came close to putting India on the score-sheet as he slid in the Lankan box and found good connection to a fleeting but brilliant ball in from right back Pritam, but the ball soared agonizingly high.
India again came tantalisingly close to scoring a few minutes later, when Chhetri latched himself on to a brilliant across-the-field ball from India’s defensive third and found himself in the Lankan penalty area. He shifted to his right, leaving a defender in his wake, and struck at goal. But the shot was deflected by the Lankan center back.
India looked desperately in need for some imagination and a clinical approach in front of goal at the end of first 45 minutes.
It looked like India intended to carry on with an one-dimensional approach in the second half, but it was a change in personnelÂ that brought about a change in fortunes for the men in blue. Rowllin Borges came on for the more-defensive minded Pronay Halder and made an immediate impact by pushing ahead and linking with Chhetri.
Bengaluru FC teammates Chhetri and Robin Singh combined in the 51st minute to break the deadlock for India when the skipper, wasted in the entire first half, cut in from the left and squared a ball in for the Indian number 9, who struck first time from close range with his left foot and found the net.
Robin Singh could’ve easily doubled the lead minutes later, when Chhetri again put a lucrative ball in from the left for the unmarked tall striker. But Singh jumped early and didn’t connect with the cross.
India again came close to extending their lead in the 68th minute when Jeje struck in a free header off Sanju’s cross from the right, but the effort was brilliantly punched out by Perera.
Chhetri and Singh combined again to put India 2-0 ahead when the Indian captain headed the ball in on goal for Singh, who left the Lankan defendersÂ behind and took a swipe at goal, this time on his right foot. Singh didn’t connect properly and twisted his ankle in the follow-through but the ball trickledÂ into the net via an attempted clearance.
Constantine, continuing with his youngsters-first policy, handed 18-year-old Lallianzuala Chhangte his first cap when the teenager came on for the injured Robin Singh.
Chhetri, who had racked up two assists, would have earned a deserving goal to his name when he belted a shot in from the edge of the box in the dying embers of the game, but Perera was alert and punched out the effort. In the end, it was a comfortable win for the hosts after a nervy first 45.
India now go top of Group A with 3 points and will face Nepal next on 27 December.