Intercontinental Cup 2018: Sunil Chhetri in focus as India face KenyaJune 4, 2018
Sunil Chhetri’s hat-trick stole the show in India’s 5-0 dismantling of Chinese Taipei in the opening match of the Intercontinental Cup 2018 on Friday. Now, as India prepares to play Kenya in their second game on Monday, Chhetri will inevitably become the focal point once again.
Not because the Indian captain is assured of netting the winning goal or any goal for that matter, but because the match will be his 100th in national colours — a feat that is only bettered by legend Bhaichung Bhutia’s 104 appearances .
Alongside Chhetri’s from, India will also take some impetus from forward Jeje Lalpekhlua’s performance. The Mizo player had an outstanding showing against Chinese Taipei, assisting Chhetri on two occasions and further creating several other chances.
Wingers Holicharan Narzary and Udanta Singh had also put in stellar shifts on the wings, Udanta even got a goal, but may be rotated to give other attackers a chance to make their bid for a place in India’s contingent that will travel to United Arab Emirates for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup early next year.
Midfielder Pronoy Halder, who returned to the national fold after being sidelined by injury and 20-year-old Anirudh Thapa, who was handed his first full start also produced eye-catching performances in India’s win.
Coach Stephen Constantine though, may opt for someone slightly more experienced than Thapa against a physically capable Kenyan unit. But Halder, who had been described by the manager as a ‘destroyer’, can be expected to start in order to break up and add some muscle in the middle.
Defensively, India were not troubled much by the inexperienced and youthful Asian side but Kenya will pose a different threat all together.
In their 2-1 win over New Zealand on Saturday, the Africans came alive in the second half as the All Whites began to tire following a determined outing in the first period.
Their everlasting energy and strength will be a bother to the 97th ranked Indian side but defensively, New Zealand managed to create several good chances against Kenya but were let down by their finishing.
It is up to India’s attack if they are to churn out a win against the Harambee Stars, who are without key players such as Tottenham Hotspurs Victor Wanyama. The winner of the contest can be assured a place in the final on June 10.