Thailand v India: 3 things we learnt as Sunil Chhetri’s masterclass sinks the War Elephants in AFC Asian Cup 2019
‘The oldest player has scored two goals, the youngest player has scored a goal, the player that wasn’t scoring goals has scored a goal. It has been a great day for India,’ said the commentator minutes before the referee blew the final whistle. It certainly was a great day, for the Blue Tigers registered their biggest win in the AFC Asian Cup, a thumping 4-1 victory over a dangerous Thailand side. Led by a brilliant Sunil Chhetri, this was the Blue Tigers’ biggest victory in the continental competition in the last 55 years.
Thailand was controlling the match from the first minute, and Sunil Chhetri’s goal from the penalty spot in the 27th minute was very much against the run. Through a brilliant ball from Theerathon Bunmathan, Teerasil Dangda found Thailand’s equalizer just six minutes later.
We don’t know what Stephen Constantine said during the half-time but the complexion of the game changed completely in the second half. Chhetri’s sublime finish in the 46th minute gave India the lead, which was increased later by youngster Anirudh Thapa and substitutes Jeje Lalpeklua.
Let us have a look at three talking points from the match:
3. The search for Sunil Chhetri’s worthy partner is over
Before the match, there were a lot of discussions about who was going to support Sunil Chhetri. Jeje Lalpeklua was having a terrible season with Chennaiyin FC and ATK’s Balwant Singh wasn’t consistent either. Constantine went with the FC Pune City youngster Ashique Kuruniyan and that made all the difference. The 21-year-old from Kerala had a great game. It was because of him that India got the first goal as his shot was initially saved by the Thai keeper but later struck the arm of a defender. In the second half too, Kuruniyan continued his darting and defense-splitting runs forward and gave the Thai defenders a run for their money. It seems that Constantine has found the Indian goal-machine Sunil Chhetri’s perfect partner, and it’s not the experience of Lalpeklua or Singh but the exuberance of Kuruniyan.
2. Wings let India fly
The Indian wingers put in a shift and a half in the game against Thailand. In the first half, the Indian left wing kept Bangkok United’s Tristan Do on his toes, as Udanta Singh on the right wing failed to grab attention. However, he came back in the game strongly in the second half. His precise delivery led to Chhetri’s 46th-minute equalizer, while Thapa’s goal also came from Udanta’s pass. Also, occasional interchange of wings was also seen. If the Indian wingers remain as menacing as they were today for the remaining group stage games, UAE and Bahrain’s side-backs might be in for some cramps.
1. Setpiece threat
While there were many positives to take from the game, let us have a look at a worrying point that might need some addressing. Though Sandesh Jhingan and Anas Edathodika guarded India’s backline confidently, that confidence wasn’t reflected when they were defending the set-pieces. Dangda’s goal came from a freekick, but it was the third freekick in a row that looked dangerous. Thailand couldn’t do much in the second half, except for a corner that had Indian fans’ biting their nails. Hence, while this might not look like an issue in a game that India won 4-1, but might prove vital in the later games.
Who does India face next?
India will face the hosts United Arab Emirates on the 10th of January. UAE is a very dangerous squad, the most dangerous of the group as per rankings. However, Bahrain managed to snatch one point from them, and if India manages to continue their form, they might do the same, if not better. The match will begin from 9:30 PM IST.