India celebrated qualification to the AFC Asian Cup in style with a handsome 4-0 win over Hong Kong in the final match of the third round of AFC Asian Cup at the Salt Lake stadium in Kolkata to win Group D.

The Blue Tigers’ passage to the 2023 AFC Asian Cup finals was secured with Palestine beating Phillipines 4-0 in a game in another group earlier on Tuesday so India could go out and enjoy themselves against Hong Kong.

India did that in some fashion as goals from Anwar Ali (2’), Sunil Chhetri (45’), Manvir Singh (85’) and Ishan Pandita (90+5’) secured an emphatic win.

Igor Stimac’s men started with a bang as Ali put the home side in front in just the second minute as he smashed home a loose ball from a corner that Hong Kong had failed to clear.

The visiting team however, who also like India came into the game with the perfect record in the third round of Asian Cup qualifiers responded well to the early blow. Sandesh Jhingan had to be alert as he was at the right place at the right time clear a dangerous cross in the 10th minute.

India then came very close to doubling the lead in the 27th minute when Sahal Abdul Samad who arrived on the end of a cross smashed it against the crossbar.

However, there was no denying the hosts as captain marvellous Chhetri continued his scoring spree with a neatly taken goal from a Jeakson Singh free-kick as he doubled India’s lead on the stroke of half-time.

The 2-0 lead at the break sent the already ecstatic Salt Lake stadium into delirium.

Cheered on by the crowd, the Blue Tigers showed no intention of slowing down after the break and Chhetri who equaled Hungarian football great Ferenc Puskas’ goal with his earlier strike almost found another in the 51st minute but the Hong Kong goalkeeper was equal to the task.

Stimac sent on Manvir Singh and Liston Colaco on the hour mark as they replaced Udanta Singh and Sahal Abdul Samad. The changes took a bit to settle but as they did India were able to dismantle their opponents in the final minutes of the match.

Manvir Singh got on the scoresheet as he expertly finished off the move after he was found with a cutback by Brandon Fernandes five minutes from time.

Then in the dying seconds of the match, it was time for substitute Pandita to score his first goal for the national team as he scored with a clever finish from a Manvir Singh assist.

The win meant India finished the group with nine points and on the top of the table and qualify for the AFC Asian Cup as group winners.

It also meant that India created history by qualifying for consecutive AFC Asian Cup for the first time in their history.