Group A: Thailand 1-4 India
Abu Dhabi: Sunil Chhetri scored twice as India beat Thailand 4-1 to begin their AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 Group A campaign in fine style on Sunday.
The 34-year-old netted either side of the break to help guide his side to their first Finals win in 55 years and pole position in the group standings following Saturday’s 1-1 draw between Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.
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On a pleasant evening in Abu Dhabi, it was Thailand who threatened first, captain Teerasil Dangda finding Thitiphan Puangjan who unleashed a fierce 11th minute drive which sailed narrowly wide of India goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu’s right-hand post.
Tristan Do’s whipped free-kick just 10 minutes later was then somehow scrambled to safety by the Indian defence, before somewhat against the run of play, India took the lead on 27 minutes.
Saranon Anuin’s surging run and shot brought a fine save out of Thailand custodian Chatchai Bootprom, only for defender Theerathon Bunmathan to concede a penalty when he handled the subsequent rebound.
Chhetri duly held his nerve to convert from 12 yards much to their delight of the travelling Indian fans.
Thailand were, however, to draw level just six minutes later, the ever-impressive Teerasil climbing highest to head home Theerathon’s expertly delivered set-piece.
In the dying embers of what had proved to be an intriguing first half, Chalermpong Kerdkaew did well to block a Chhetri effort when the Indian talisman was well-placed.
However, within moments of the restart, Ashique Kuruniyan and Udanta Singh combined to set up Chhetri who fired home past Chatchai from 15 yards to claim his 67th international goal and restore his side’s advantage.
India continued to press their Southeast Asian opponents, and they extended their advantage on 68 minutes, this time Anirudh Thapa finishing with aplomb following a lightning breakaway and Chatchai’s initial parry.
With time running out, Thailand rallied briefly when Dangda saw a goal-bound effort diverted to safety via the outstretched leg of defender Anas Edathodika.
It was not to be for the Thais though, as, with 10 minutes remaining, substitute Jeje Lalpekhlua rounded off the scoring for India courtesy of a curling strike from the edge of the area.
India will now look to build on their initial success when they face host nation the UAE at Abu Dhabi's Zayed Sports City Stadium on Thursday, while Thailand are set to face Bahrain in Dubai on the same day.
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