From Chhetri's milestone to Mahesh's heroics: Takeaways from Hero Tri-Nation Cup
India came out victorious in the Hero Tri-Nation Tournament after defeating Myanmar (1-0) and the Kyrgyz Republic (2-0) at the Khuman Lampak Stadium in Imphal, Manipur.
The Blue Tigers began their preparations for the AFC Asian Cup 2023 on a positive note after securing the title in front of a packed-out Manipur crowd. They also extended their impressive unbeaten run to five games in the process.
Here are the key takeaways from the Hero Tri-Nation Tournament:
Sunil Chhetri overtakes Ferenc Puskas
The Indian skipper had an unlucky game against Myanmar in front of the goal where he missed a couple of glorious opportunities to increase the goal tally. However, he did score a goal late in the second half but only to be ruled out for offside by the assistant referee.
Against the Kyrgyz Republic, the scenario was quite similar and Chhetri had to wait until the 84th to get his name on the scoresheet. The 38-year-old made no mistake to score from the spot to put India 2-0 up against the White Falcons.
With that goal, the Indian forward has now overtaken Hungarian legend Puskas to become the fifth-highest international goalscorer of all time after reaching 85 goals for his country. Chhetri is currently the third-highest active goal scorer in the world, only behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
Two clean sheets
Two games, no goals conceded. India’s defensive record has proved to be an impassable part of Stimac’s winning formula in the team’s incredible run. Akash Mishra was the only defender to start both matches with the Croatian tactician continuing his policy of rotating his line-up as it keeps the team sharp.
Both Amrinder Singh (against Myanmar) and Gurpreet Singh Sandhu (against the Kyrgyz Republic) had quieter games than they would have imagined. The opposition attempted a couple of shots on goal but the Indian custodians were successful to parry away those shots out of the danger area.
Stimac’s men have kept four clean sheets in their last five games, another remarkable feat that will help the side gain confidence ahead of the Intercontinental Cup.
Naorem Mahesh Singh hits the mark in National Team debut
Mahesh received a late call-up to the national camp as a replacement for Sivasakthi Narayanan. The 24-year-old had the rare fortune of making his debut in front of family members and indisputably, he made the most of it.
Mahesh came off the bench against Myanmar in the 70th minute and made an instant impression with his vigorous movements and link-up play with Chhetri. The winger, who was handed another 34 minutes in the second game by coach Igor Stimac brought more energy to the left flank, occasionally cutting in, providing width on the pitch, and delivering crosses. He made some dashing forward runs and also earned the penalty that led to the second goal.
A boisterous crowd in Imphal
The stadium was full in Kolkata when the Blue Tigers took onto the field last time during the AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers in June 2022. This time the sight was no different. Almost 30,000 odd people flocked to the Khuman Lampak Stadium in Imphal on both matches to cheer for the national team. Stimac called the crowd a bit 'sleepy' in the opening game and urged them to be livelier in the next game. The fans took the challenge and presented a sight to behold against the Kyrgyz Republic. The crowd was fully vocal throughout the game, chanting “Indiaaaa, Indiaaa!” They also displayed a giant tifo to pay tribute to the legendary Indian footballer Tulsidas Balaram.
An energetic atmosphere like this can inspire results, grind results beyond players’ abilities, and strengthen the overall squad.