Intercontinental Cup: Chhetri delights with a brace

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MUMBAI, JUNE 05,
Rain may have cast a wet blanket over Sunil Chhetri’s 100th appearance in Team India’s blue jersey. But the skipper made it memorable by scoring two goals as the host beat Kenya 3-0, for its second successive win, in the Hero Intercontinental Cup at a packed Mumbai Football Arena on Monday.
Chhetri converted a penalty kick to put a hard-running home team ahead in the 65th minute, Jeje Lalpekhlua fired home the second six minutes later before the captain chipped home another in the 90th minute to set his seal on a landmark game.
The triple strikes happened more due to individual brilliance than teamwork. Chhetri shaped to control a floater and chested the ball down when Michael Kibwage brought him down. The Indian captain kept his cool while faced with delaying tactics by goalkeeper Patrick Matasi and converted with ease.
His second on an exciting night, with the crowd chanting his name, was the finishing touch to a breakaway move by Balwant Singh, the most admired player on the pitch netting with a chip. Jeje’s goal happened in a flash of inspiration. The muscular forward capitalised on a defensive error created by Holicharan Narzary’s cross into the Kenyan goalmouth.
The defence did not get time to recover as the Indian shifted the ball from left to right and fired across high into the right top corner. Sandesh Jhingan, limping off in the second half, alongside Anas Edathodika, who also replaced, played their hearts out in the central defence. The defensive duo were cheered off the pitch but the loudest cheers was reserved for the special one with the armband.
Given the conditions, India’s goal-tender Gurpreet Singh proved more experienced than his counterpart, who got beaten thrice in a rollicking second half as India turned on the heat on a pitch which allowed the ball to roll, in contrast to the burst of play under sheets of rain in the first half. India fielded an unchanged squad from the one which demolished Chinese Taipei in the opener. Udanta Singh on the right created ripples in the early stages before the flooded pitch reduced the service of passes in his direction and lowered the momentum. Earlier, deafening chants of ‘India’ boomed from the stands and the fans chanted ‘Vande Mataram’ as the teams walked in. The crowd showed solidarity with Team India by singing the National Anthem, in sync with the musical version played on the PA.

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