India beat Macau to qualify for 2019 AFC Asian CupOctober 12, 2017
BENGALURU: ‘Sleeping giant’ India woke up on Wednesday, securing their passage into the 2019 AFC Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates with a rousing 4-1 win against minnows Macau at the Sree Kanteerava stadium here on Wednesday.
A fourth straight win in Group A saw the ‘Blue Tigers’ cement a top-2 finish in the qualifying round along with a berth in the main draw of the second oldest continental football championship in the world. India last played in the tournament in 2011 when they qualified after winning the AFC Challenge Cup. This is India’s fourth qualification after 1964, 1984 and 2011.
With over 4,000 fans watching on a rainy day in the Garden City, the hosts made heavy weather of their world No. 182 opponents, who put forth a brave challenge by playing some compact formations.
Macau troubled India till the hour mark when skipper Sunil Chhetri gave finishing touches to a brilliant run by super sub Balwant Singh, who had scored both the goals in the away leg last month. It took a while after changing ends to soak up the pressure as the visitors attacked in tandem through Carlos Fernandes and nippy midfielder Lam Ka Seng.
India broke the deadlock in a fast counter, catching the Macau defence unawares. Sent through by Jeje, Balwant – who was subbed in at the start of the second half – was off in a flash and Chhetri went up through the other side. With the only the ‘keeper to beat, Balwant unselfishly relayed the ball to Chhetri who fired in past Ho Man Fai in the 60th minute.
Macau were then done in by an own goal, ten minutes later. Holicharan Narzary came up with a probing cross from the right and Lam Seng’s clearance ballooned into the top right corner of the post. It was cat and mouse from then on but India’s lack of finishing denied them more goals to showcase their superiority. The icing on the cake came in the 92nd minute when Jeje slotted in the fourth and final goal.
Earlier, the hosts were stunned in the opening session after Nicholas Mario Tarrao struck a historic goal for Macau. Latching on to a cross from the right flank, the striker beat India custodian Gurpreet Singh Sandhu from close range in the 37th minute to negate Rowling Borges’ opener that put the hosts in the lead in the 28th minute. It was Macau’s first goal of the tournament, after conceding eight, and also the first one India had conceded in the final round of qualifiers.
Till then it was mostly one-way traffic – in pouring rain – as Macau battled hard to keep the Indians at bay. The hosts were guilty of not testing the Macau ‘keeper in the early stages of the match at a time when the slippery ball was difficult to control.
Result: India 4 (Rowlin Borges 28, Sunil Chhetri 60, Lam Seng 70-og, Jeje 90+2) bt Macau 1 (Nicolas Tarrao 37).