Chhetri lights up Mumbai on his 100th international appearance

India are all but through to the final of the Hero Intercontinental Cup after a hard-fought 3-0 victory over Kenya, amidst heavy showers at the Mumbai Football Arena on Monday. Once again, captain Sunil Chhetri proved to be the man for the occasion as he marked his 100th cap for the nation with a brilliant brace. Striker Jeje Lalpekhlua was not far behind as he added to the scoreline with a belter of a strike.

The first half started on a cagey note with the majority of the play happening in midfield. With the rain pouring relentlessly, the players were unable to spray their passes with as much ease as they would have liked. The first real chance of the game came Chhetri’s way in the 22nd minute, after a defensive mistake from the Kenyan defence. With the goalkeeper well off his line, Chhetri tried to chip the ball from outside the box, but it narrowly missed the crossbar and grazed the roof of the net before going out of play.

However, Kenya started to make inroads as the clock ticked on and nearly found the lead through Patilah Omoto’s goal-bound shot. Custodian Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, however, was up to the task and kept his attempt out with an acrobatic dive. With that piece of the action, the teams broke for the half-time break, with the aim to get their tactics back on track.

The second half began with the away side on the front foot. They almost broke the deadlock through Ovella Ochieng, who raced past the defenders and had only Gurpreet to beat but dragged his shot wide. That chance seemed to spur the Blue Tigers as they started creating chances of their own. Chhetri was awarded a golden chance after Halicharan Narzary delivered a brilliant cross which found him in space in front of an open goal, but the captain surprisingly miscued his shot.

The 65th minute gifted India with a chance to open the scoreline through a penalty, when Chhetri was brought down inside the box. The man himself stepped up to take the spot-kick and found the top corner to give his side the lead and mark his landmark occasion. That goal stimulated the momentum in India’s side and they doubled their lead only a few minutes later through Jeje. The Chennaiyin FC striker found himself with a yard of space inside the box and unleashed a thundering drive to the top corner, which no goalkeeper would have been able to save.

With less than 20 minutes to go, the Kenyans had a mountain to climb to get back into the game, but Constantine’s men were in cruise control, barely affording them a way back. With the match entering added time, it seemed Chhetri still had unfinished business to complete. Set up by substitute Balwant Singh’s well-timed pass, Chhetri took one touch before exquisitely lobbing the onrushing keeper from outside the box. That magnificent goal proved to be the last piece of action, as India inched closer to the Hero Intercontinental Cup final and Chhetri completed a memorable landmark in front of a vociferous crowd.

Hero of the Match: Sandesh Jhingan

Starting Lineups:

INDIA: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu (GK), Pritam Kotal, Anas Edathodika, Sandesh Jhingan, Subhasish Bose, Anirudh Thapa, Pronay Halder, Udanta Singh, Sunil Chhetri (C), Halicharan Narzary, Jeje Lalpekhlua

KENYA: Patrick Matasi (GK); Jockins Atudo, Erick Otieno, Michael Kibwage, Musa Mayeko (C); Patilah Omoto, Pistone Mutamba, Odhiambo Dennis, Miheso Cliffton, Duncan Otieno, Ovella Ochieng.

India will meet New Zealand next on June 7, while Kenya go on to face Chinese Taipei on June 8.

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