Thapa haunts Thailand again as India register first win of Stimac-era

The Indian national football team registered their first victory under new head coach Igor Stimac with a 1-0 win over hosts Thailand at the Chang Arena in Buriram on Saturday. The result also helped India seal a third-place finish in the King’s Cup 2019.

It was the Blue Tigers’ second straight win over the War Elephants, having beaten them 4-1 at the AFC Asian Cup 2019 back in January.

  • Anirudh Thapa scored to hand India the lead on the 17th minute.
  • Farukh Choudhary’s shot from distance rattled the post early in the second half.
  • India held on to seal the narrow victory.

Stimac, as promised, made wholesale changes to the starting XI which started against Curacao, with just Sandesh Jhingan, Subhasish Bose and Rahul Bheke retaining their spots. Raynier Fernandes and Amarjit Singh, who made a big impact in the last match after coming on as second half substitutes, were handed starts along with the likes of goalkeeper Amrinder Singh and Adil Khan. Adil was making his fourth appearance in India colours and his first since 11th March, 2012.

Thailand started with striker Teerasil Dangda up front - the same player who scored against India during the War Elephants' 4-1 loss to India at the AFC Asian Cup 2019.

However, it would be another scorer from the Asian Cup clash who would draw first blood in the match. On the 17th minute, the Thai defence failed to clear a Raynier Fernandes free-kick from the right and the ball made its way to Adil inside the box. The FC Pune City man looked up, took a touch and whizzed in a delightful low cross across the goal. Anirudh Thapa ghosted past his marker and tapped in to give India the lead. To recall, Thapa also scored India's third goal against Thailand in the Asian Cup tie back in January 6, 2019.

The home team thought that they had restored parity five minutes later when Dangda beat Amrinder with an acrobatic finish, but the offside flag came to India's rescue. Overall, the match was turning out to be a tight affair with Thailand enjoying the lion’s share of the possession but the India defence looked far more comfortable dealing with their threat than they did in the first half against Curacao.

The Thai side upped the ante after the 30-minute mark and pegged India further back. A great block by Adil and a goalline clearance by Thapa, however, helped the Blue Tigers see off the seize without conceding their advantage till half time.

India, too, had a big chance to double their lead just before the referee signalled for the break. Farukh Choudhary found himself free on goal after a quick breakaway. Despite being one vs one with the keeper, the young striker delayed his shot and tried to lay the ball off for an onrushing Balwant Singh instead. A timely intervention by Adison Promrak averted any further damage for the hosts.

Farukh almost made amends for the missed opportunity soon after the restart. The 22-year-old pulled the trigger from just outside the box and had Thai custodian Siwarak Tedsungnoen beat. Unfortunately for the youngster, the effort came out after rattling the woodwork.

As the half went on, Thailand began throwing more and more bodies forward in search of an equaliser but some resolute defending by the Indian players screened Amrinder from any telling tests. With Manvir Singh and Jackichand Singh coming onto the field, India looked to press the War Elephants high up on the pitch and one such press almost resulted in the second goal. Siwarak missed a back pass completely and the ball looked to be trickling inside the far corner. A daring last-ditch clearance by Suphan Thongsong helped Thailand to keep the deficit limited to just a single goal, but the Thai midfielder hurt himself badly during the process and had to be carried off the pitch.

Stimac made his final substitute of the match on the 75-minute mark, bringing on Sahal Abdul Samad in place of a tired Raynier. The swap immediately brought some extra energy in the Blue Tigers midfield, as India looked to counter the Thai charge on the front foot, keeping possession of the ball higher up the pitch.

Thailand’s best chance to grab the leveller came on the 88th minute. Adison beat the India defence to get on the end of Theerathon Bunmathan’s free kick. The defender just needed to keep his header on target, but ended up placing it wide. The match ended 1-0 in India’s favour.

It was an encouraging display by a young Indian side to beat a very good Thailand team despite first team regulars like Sunil Chhetri, Gurpreet Singh Sandhi, Pritam Kotal and Pronay Halder playing no part in the match at all.

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