Sunil Chhetri a perfect 10 as India rout Thailand in AFC Asian Cup opener
India beat Thailand 4-1, their first win in the AFC Asian Cup in 55 years, to climb to the top of Group A with three points on Sunday.
After staying compact and disciplined through the first half that ended 1-1, India exploded into life in the second half, pressing the Thai defence and midfield high up the pitch, and bringing to the table an intensity that the Thais couldn't match.
Goalscorers for India -- Sunil Chhetri (2), Anirudh Thapa, Jeje Lalpekhlua
India showed speed, assurance and composure in moving forward. They were faced with an opponent that might be ranked lower in the world, but has players with big-match experience in recent years. India belied that with their confidence moving forward, and coping with a bright Thailand performance in the first half. That the second half was practically won 3-0 was a tribute to how well they switched their game on after 45 minutes.
The defence still looks a little wobbly, especially when faced with set-pieces. The competition now gets tighter for India against UAE and Bahrain, and any mistakes in the defensive third will be punished more severely.
Manager rating out of 10
9 -- There's nothing wrong that Stephen Constantine did tactically on the night, starting from his bold selection call of dropping Jeje Lalpekhlua to the bench and starting with Ashique Kuruniyan instead. He set his midfield well, but they also showed a willingness to pin Thailand back with the central midfield joining in the fun - especially in the second 45. The match was evenly poised at half-time, but the energy and verve India showed early in the second half took the game away from their opponents.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, 6 -- Didn't have a lot to do, especially in a first half where Thailand failed to get enough shots on target. Could have communicated better with his defenders, who at times seemed to not be sure about Sandhu's movements off set-pieces. Dealt well with a few scares late in the match, though.
DF Pritam Kotal, 7 -- Bankable performance at right-back, keeping the dangerous Supachai Jaided in check on multiple occasions. His front-foot defending set the tone in the second half, but his lack of communication in holding the line during the Thailand set-piece that led to their goal was an error, though.
DF Anas Edathodika, 6 -- Reasonably good defensive performance, but seemed rattled by some of the pace in the Thailand attacking line. Was also at fault for the Thailand equaliser, where Teerasil Dangda was allowed space to squeeze in for a free header.
DF Sandesh Jhingan, 6 -- Started the game brightly, but allowed a few errors as the game progressed. Physically, he was a great presence for India to have in defence, but his lack of pace might be tested out by UAE and Bahrain.
DF Subhasish Bose, 7 -- Like Kotal, a tidy performance at left-back by Bose left India defensively tight for the most part. Didn't venture forward too much, but that was also down to Thailand using a lot of the wings in their attacking play.
MF Pronay Halder, 6 -- Had a mixed game, though picked his performance up in the second half to provide India the solidity in midfield they needed. Had a few rash challenges in the first half, which must be curbed if he wants to escape the referee's ire in future games
MF Anirudh Thapa, 8 -- Given the tough task of marking Chanathip Songkrasin, Thailand's dangerous playmaker, and seemed up for it in the early portion of the game. Lost the same discipline midway through the first half, and that allowed Thailand ample space to stretch the Indian defence, which could have been much more costly. Was better in the second half, the sublime chip that provided India's third exemplifying his performance.
MF Udanta Singh, 7 -- Competent with his overall contribution, especially when moving forward. Won a lot of second balls and his assist to Chhetri for India's second goal summed up his ability best, a 30-yard dash that took him out of sight with a free ball and won him time to send in a perfect ball.
MF Halicharan Narzary, 7 -- Perhaps the one member of the attacking quartet that didn't make as much of an impact on the game as the rest, Narzary's work rate was not to be faulted, though. Misplaced his passes under pressure a couple of times, which suggest he might need to work on his defensive game, though his assist late in the match to Jeje was excellent.
MF Ashique Kuruniyan, 8 -- At 21, the second youngest starter, but responded magnificently to the call-up to play ahead of Jeje. Showed good composure and understanding of his role, using his physicality to hold up balls and to give something for the other forward players to work with. Earned India the first-half penalty with a quick bit of thinking to get in behind the defence
FW Sunil Chhetri, 10 -- Expected to be the best player on the pitch, and lived up to that billing with the way he led the attacking line. Kept harrying the Thailand defence with his energy and movement, best exemplified with the passage of play that led to the first Indian goal. He caught the Thai defence by surprise with his quick release for Ashique off a throw-in, allowing his strike partner to get in behind the full-back with the extra split-second. Set the tone for a strong second half performance with a classic opportunistic finish.
FW Jeje Lalpekhlua, 8 -- Out of form, and even favour with his league coach, Jeje couldn't have asked for a better introduction than being handed a perfect ball at his feet from Narzary, and he obliged with an easy finish. This should do his confidence a world of good.
MF Rowllin Borges, NA
MF Germanpreet Singh NA