Sunil Chhetri’s Goal Revives India’s Hopes at Asian Games

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The Indian football team rode on a late Sunil Chhetri strike to beat Bangladesh by a solitary goal and stay alive for a place in the knockouts of the 2023 Asian Games in Hangzhou on Thursday.

The 39-year-old veteran scored from the spot in the 85th minute to help his team earn full points after the 1-5 hammering at the hands of hosts China on Tuesday.

Asked about the lack of recovery time, Chhetri said, “The first thing is to go and recuperate, it was not easy. I’m pretty sure it was the same thing for the opponents also. playing three games in five days is not easy, a lot of ice baths, eating good food and getting ready.”

India will next play Myanmar, who beat Bangladesh 1-0 on the opening day.

After the loss to China, Igor Stimac’s wards were back against their familiar South Asian foe, a team that has been a tough one to break down for the Blue Tigers.

India were the ones to create a first attempt at goal in the ninth minute when Rohit Danu and Rahul KP combined to put the ball at the feet of Chhetri, inside the box. The skipper’s shot, though, was deflected wide.

Chhetri had another chance a few minutes later, with Ayush Dev Chhetri’s cross falling to him inside the six-yard box. Chhetri played the ball across the goal rather than towards it, and Bangladesh cleared with ease.

The game fell into a pattern soon after, and there was more midfield tussle than end-to-end action. Bangladesh’s pacey wingers were the focal points of their attack, constantly probing and drifting crosses into the Indian box.

Rabiul Hasan and Jayed Ahmed put through a flurry of crosses into the Indian box midway through the first half, each of which was cleared with ease by a stoic Indian defence.

On the one occasion that Bangladesh did breach the defence, Dheeraj Singh saved comfortably.

The Blue Tigers’ lynchpin for the first half was Bryce Miranda, the winger tirelessly running at defenders and constantly making the Bangladeshi players second-guess their options.

In the 40th minute, his corner landed perfectly for Chinglensana Singh. The defender’s subsequent header towards goal was blocked. Despite having possession, India had not registered a single shot on target when injury time struck in the first half.

Just like in the last game though, it was in that period that suddenly the action picked up.

Unsurprisingly, Miranda was at the centre of it, if only fleetingly. It was his low-centred ball that caused panic in the Bangladesh defence, a miscued clearance and a weak punch by Mitul Marma, falling straight to Chhetri 10 yards from goal.

The skipper shot and shot hard, but Marma was up for the challenge, diving low to make the save. The rebound, after a melee, fell to Abdul Rabeeh, who shot at goal again.

Again, Marma saved. This time the rebound fell straight to Rabeeh, who had the presence of mind to lob the ball across the box to Rahul KP inside the six-yard box. Rahul rose high and headed towards goal, and again Marma was there, deflecting the ball onto the post.

Bangladesh cleared frantically and the best chances of the first half were gone.

India picked up right where they left off at the end of the first half, with Miranda’s energy and enterprise in particular driving most of it. Three minutes into the second half, he curled a cross perfectly into the six-yard box, only for Rahul KP to miscue his header. From the rebound, Rabeeh shot high and wide.

India was in control of the tempo of the game, but Bangladesh were not to be written off. They capitalised on the smallest of errors and ensured Dheeraj remained on high alert. The youngster saved brilliantly after a defensive mix-up saw Fahim bear down on the Indian goal in the 50th minute.

In the 60th minute, India almost had the opener, in glorious style, no less. From a freekick wide on the left, 35 yards from goal Samuel James shot for goal, when a cross was perhaps more expected. It caught everyone by surprise, Marma included.

To Bangladesh’s relief, though, it bounced off the post.

Bangladesh rode that luck to create a brilliant chance on a counter, Mojibor Rahman Jony dancing his way into the box after a cross-field ball had found him in yards of space. He dribbled past Lalchungnunga and broke to his left, but by the time he pulled the trigger, Dheeraj had smartly closed the angle and distance to make what was a superb save.

Both goalkeepers had, at different stages, kept their team in the game, setting up a brilliant finale. It came down to the thinnest of margins. Miranda, a constant thorn in Bangladesh’s defence, was brought down inside the box by Rahmat Mia.

The referee pointed to the spot, despite protests from Bangladesh. Chhetri took the ball and slotted it home, low and hard into the bottom left.

Featured Image: Sportstar: The Hindu

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