India’s starting XI v/s Guam (Pic Courtesy AIFF Media)

India went on to win their second match of AFC Challenge Cup in style, beating a weak Guam side 4-0 to take their tally of points to six and a virtual place in the next year’s AFC Challenge Cup. After dominating most part of the 90 minutes in their previous game, it took a late goal from the Blue Tigers to seal all three points, but Monday afternoon was different with India getting to a respectable win, not leaving it for too late to register a victory. Sunil Chhetri on a goal-less trot for three games running, scored a brace on either ends of the second half with a goal from Dempo skipper Clifford Miranda, followed by one from Jewel Raja, sandwiched between the skipper’s brace.

Coming into the tournament on the back of a 4-2 defeat to Palestine, marred by a dismal second half showing, that saw a resolute first half showing go unnoticed, India started their AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers campaign with a narrow 2-1 win over Chinese Taipei with substitute Robin Singh leading a late charge with the winning goal in the 87th minute.

The win proved to be a sigh of relief for the Blue Tigers and having edged past their counterparts in a closely contested game gave India the mental edge going into the Guam game with the opponents coming after being thumped 5-0 by hosts Myanmar. With a second win under their belt, India have all but ensured their place in the AFC Challenge Cup and a second thumping on the trot for the Guam side sends them home empty handed.

Wim Koevermans, after a fine display against Chinese Taipei, didn’t seem to be content and thus rung in a couple of changes in the side with Syed Rahim Nabi and Denzil Franco being picked ahead of Francis Fernandes and Nirmal Chhetri respctively. Given Guam is a weaker opponent and with India looking to nick in as many goals as possible, the Dutchman chose to go with the AIFF player of the year, who was also responsible for changing the dynamics of the previous game ahead of Francis and Denzil being a better attacking full-back was given a nod. Though, the team went in with the same 4-4-1-1 formation to everyone’s surprise, given India were expected to score big owing to Myanmar’s 5-0 drubbing of Guam.

India, placed 14 spots above a Guam side ranked 181 in the world, was expected to get the better of Matao, but what was to be seen was the margin of victory, especially after Myanmar routed Guam in their opening fixture. India did not get to the best of starts, being second best for most parts of the initial 20 minutes, but gradually gained a foothold in the game. Leading the charge for the Blue Tigers was captain Sunil Chhetri, who struck two magnificent blows, only to see them go just wide and being saved by the Guam goalie. India continued to press, giving an opening to the Guam to exploit, but the Mataos looked content on holding their lines and for whatever counter attacking opportunity that came their way,  they were generous enough, with their striker missing a one-on-one with Subrata Pal, sending the ball just wide of the mark.  Indian toiled hard, but failed to get on the scoresheet and was marginally lucky to not have conceded. All in all, India had a poor start, raising more question marks on Koeverman’s tactics of fielding the lone striker upfront when India needed to attack more.

As the referee blew the whistle to kick-start the second half, it announced some sort of revival of the Indian side. Koevermans was quick in replacing Syed Nabi with Francis to add some freshness and though, Francis had nothing to do with the goal, second half proved to be a perfect start for the Blue Tigers with captain Sunil Chhetri finding himself one-on-one with the keeper and sending the ball into the back of the net.  Guam dropped deeper in defence and India, on the contrary, were looking to stretch their lead as far as possible.

With India stepping up the gas, Guam were keen on sitting back to stop from India scoring further.  Koevermans made a further change, getting on Arata Izumi for Lenny around the hour mark to add to the creativity. It was the 67th minute when India drew second blood courtesy of their winger Clifford Miranda. He got space on the left, made a pacy run in the opposition box and struck a meaty blow to beat the Guam goalie all ends up. India didn’t seem to be content with a two goal lead and wanted to build upon it and the Dutchman got on the in-form C.K. Vineeth in place of the goalscorer Miranda.

Chhetri with a match-winning brace

With India going further forward, Guam had their chances, but failed to be clinical enough. Guam won more corners, but the team having looked susceptible to set-pieces for long dealt with it rather well, holding their lines and a clean sheet. In the process, India struck again through their star-man in the first game, Jewel Raja, who scored a beautifully crafted kick from 26 yards out to send India 3-0 up. Just as the game continued with the flow, Chhetri bagged his second on the night, heading a Mehtab Hossain corner into the net to round up a 4-0 drubbing.

India’s second half performance saw the Blue Tigers charged up to register their second win on the trot in AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers. If India had any concerns of not getting enough goals following Myanmar’s 5 goal drubbing, the Blue Tigers would now be absolutely ecstatic after Myanmar drew their game against Chinese Taipei 1-1, to share the spoils. The results in the day are just what the doctor ‘ordered for the Indian side and anything better than or a draw confirms India’s berth in the AFC Cup, slated to take place next year in Australia.

Subrata Pal; Denzil Franco, Gouramangi Moirangthem Singh, Raju Eknath Gaikwad, Gurjinder Kumar Singh; Syed Rahim Nabi (Francis Fernades 46’), Lenny Rodrigues (Arata Izumi 61’), Mehtab Hossain, Clifford Miranda (Vineeth 74’), Jewel Raja Sheikh; Sunil Chhetri [C]

Doug Herrick; Jonahan Romero,  Christian Schweizer, Thaddeus Atalig; Shawn Nicklaw ( 82’), Travis Nicklaw, Ian Adamos (Lopez 51’), Jason Cunliffe [C], Ryan Guy, Mariano Ian Lujan (Naputi 71’); John Matkin