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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Chhetri’s late winner against Vanuatu books India’s Hero Intercontinental Cup final berth


India edged past Vanuatu 1-0 to book them

place in the Hero Intercontinental Cup Final, at the Kalinga Stadium here Monday night.

It was the Blue Tigers’ seventh straight win on home soil, a run that

includes six clean sheets.fter a dominating 80 minutes in which the hosts created countless

opportunities but lacked the cutting edge, it was Sunil Chhetri’s

sensational 86th international goal for India which ultimately settled

the game.

Earlier in the day, Mongolia held Lebanon to a goalless draw after a

gritty defensive display, which meant three points for India were

enough to seal their final berth.

Head coach Igor Stimac made as many as nine changes to the side that

overcame Mongolia 2-0 on Friday. Only captain Sunil Chhetri and

Sandesh Jhingan, who made his 50th Blue Tigers appearance, maintained

their place in the eleven which also had Nandhakumar Sekar making his

senior international debut.

The first half was a story of misfiring shots from the Blue Tigers.

With Vanuatu sitting tight at the back in the opening stages, Liston

Colaco and Nandhakumar shot over the bar from long range.

Sunil Chhetri also missed a couple of headed opportunities – first,

heading over a good-looking Kotal cross from the right before failing

to properly connect with Mahesh’s looping delivery just before


Mahesh, handed his first start for the Blue Tigers by Stimac, was the

architect of most of India’s opportunities. The East Bengal man

slipped in a great through-ball for his new club teammate Nandhakumar,

who could only fire wide.

Liston, who had earlier spurned a half-decent opportunity by skying a

lay-off from Chhetri, eventually got India’s first shot on target. His

powerful strike from the edge of the area was initially spilled by

Vanuatu goalkeeper Massing Kalotang but he quickly gathered it on the

second attempt before Chhetri could pounce.

Mahesh switched over to the left wing after the break, but continued

to send in dangerous crosses into the middle but Chhetri headed wide

once again from just outside the six-yard box.

Stimac changed his entire midfield at the hour mark, bringing on Sahal

Abdul Samad, Anirudh Thapa and Jeakson Singh Thounaojam, after which

India’s urgency in attack went up a notch.

As time progressed, Vanuatu began sitting deeper and deeper hoping to

salvage a precious point. But the hosts were not to be denied as

Chhetri broke the deadlock by notching his 86th international goal for

India. Left-back Subhasish Bose, making his first international

appearance in over a year, delivered an inch-perfect cross for Chhetri

in the penalty area, and the skipper chested it down perfectly before

volleying it in with aplomb as the ball nestled into the roof of the


India, now top of the table with six points, will next play

second-placed Lebanon on Thursday, June 15 at 19:30 IST. The final

will take place on June 18.

India XI: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu (GK), Pritam Kotal, Sandesh Jhingan,

Mehtab Singh, Subhasish Bose, Rowllin Borges (Sahal Abdul Samad 61′),

Rohit Kumar (Anirudh Thapa 61′), Liston Colaco (Jeakson Singh

Thounaojam 61′), Naorem Mahesh Singh, Nandhakumar Sekar (Lallianzuala

Chhangte 66′), Sunil Chhetri (C) (Rahim Ali 85′).

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