Anwar Ali, Sunil Chhetri, Manvir, and Ishan Pandita scored in the third round of Asian Cup qualifiers on Wednesday to help India defeat a tough Hong Kong side 4-0 and finish top of the table. On a stormy night in Kolkata, Igor Stimac’s team came out firing, scoring two goals in the first two minutes: Ali (2′) and Chhetri (45′). Manvir (85′) and Pandita (90′ +3′) came off the bench to complete the rout and put India (nine points) in first place in Group D, ahead of Hong Kong (six points).
India took an early 1-0 lead, with centre-back Ali, 21, scoring his first international goal four years after his career was nearly cut short due to health concerns.
With a left-footed strike into the top corner, the 2017 Under-17 World Cup star, whose career had been put on hiatus after being diagnosed with a rare heart ailment (Hypertrophic Myocardiopathy), scored from a short Ashique Kuruniyan corner.
Just before halftime, the talismanic Chhetri extended the lead with a 30-yard freekick, his fourth goal of the tournament. Jeakson Singh floated in a fantastic freekick, which the captain beautifully handled with a clever first touch before calmly slotting home for his 84th international goal. In the list of all-time leading men’s international scorers, he is now tied with Ferenc Puskas of Hungary.
Argentine ace Lionel Messi is only two goals behind the Indian legend in the active player’s list, which is dominated by Portuguese Cristiano Ronaldo (117).
Brandon Fernandes started a move down the right flank and played a quick 1-2 with Roshan Singh before Manvir struck the target late in the second half. India counter-attacked on a song, and Pandita converted a right-wing cross from Manvir.
But, as the half progressed, Jorn Andersen’s side awoke and began to create the better of the chances. After superb work by Wong Wai, Sandesh Jhingan was forced to put the ball over his own bar, while Sean Tse flicked his header from Ju Yingzhi’s corner beyond the target.
Wong then blasted a swerving shot across the goal before Matt Orr got just enough space to send in a low cross from the left that Sun Ming-him nearly missed.
Sun was unfortunate to only direct Ju’s freekick into Gurpreet Singh’s hands, and Orr headed over soon after. Yapp Hung-reaction stop from Sahal in the 27th minute underscored the Indians’ ongoing threat, while Sun was unfortunate to only steer Ju’s freekick into Gurpreet Singh’s hands.
Both teams were assured of a place in the Asian Cup Finals more than eight hours before their match, thanks to Palestine’s 4-0 win over the Philippines, who were eliminated after finishing as the worst runners-up in the six groups. Stay Tuned for The Sportsway for more updates.