Bhubaneswar, It was perhaps a rather difficult night for India, but one that eventually ended with three points in India’s kitty as a late Sunil Chhetri strike salvaged a victory for the hosts against Vanuatu at the Kalinga Stadium here late Monday.
India were overwhelmingly dominant in the match, keeping 61 percent possession, with 23 shots to Vanuatu’s three. The hosts were lacking penetration in the final third, and managed to register only two shots on target. However, talismanic striker Sunil Chhetri stepped up to the plate in the hour of need, smashing home a cross by Subhasish Bose, in what would be his 86th goal in international football. Of all that he has scored, perhaps this is the one that would hold special significance for India’s number 11, who sent a big message to the fans with his celebrations.
A picture of calm, Chhetri quietly collected the ball after putting India in the lead and proceeded to tuck it under his shirt in a loving gesture to his wife Sonam.
“This is the way she wanted to announce it. So, this is for her and for our baby. I generally thought there would be different ways to announce it and to share the happiness with everyone and share their blessings, but the cliché holds it way. I had to do it,” exclaimed Chhetri after the match. “I just hope that we get everyone’s blessings. That was the whole point.”
The Blue Tigers, who had already beaten Mongolia 2-0 in their first match of the Hero Intercontinental Cup, secured their berth in the final of the competition with a win against Vanuatu. They have one more match remaining against Lebanon (June 15), before the final on June 18.
India head coach Igor Stimac, after the match, underlined the importance of rotating players in order to maintain “fresh legs” for the important fixtures ahead.
“I have had my best 11 a long time ago, but I cannot play those 11 in every game. I need to make sure that we have enough legs for the final game. We need to make sure that we give game time to everyone and keep all the players fresh for the important matches,” said Stimac after the game.
India’s missed chances against Vanuatu left Stimac desiring for further improvement, especially in the middle of the park.
“We have changed some players because we were not good in the first 45 minutes in midfield. We were sloppy, we were slow, and we were looking to find more wide passes than progressive ones,” said Stimac, who proceeded to make a host of changes in the second half. “These are things we need to address and change.”
India will next play Lebanon in their last match of the Hero Intercontinental Cup at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar on June 15 at 7.30 pm IST.