India got off to an unexpected, but well-deserved start to their AFC Asian Cup campaign after they bludgeoned Thailand into submission in a game of two halves.
Group A: FULL-TIME: Thailand 1-4 India
Thailand: Teerasil Dangda [33′]
India: Sunil Chhetri [27′ (Penalty), 46′], Anirudh Thapa [68′], Jeje L. [80′]
Thailand started the game brighter of the two sides and dominated in midfield with Chanathip Songkrasin the hub of creativity for the War Elephants. The midfielder Thitipan Puangchan had a couple of early sighters from distance, but they were not on target.
Almost against the run of play, Ashique Kuruniyan’s foray into the box resulted in Thailand conceding a penalty for a handball. Sunil Chhetri stepped up and the 34-year-old talisman smashed the ball past the keeper to put India in the lead.
Thailand looked dangerous from set-piece situations and deliveries into the box and it was one of those scenarios which got them the equaliser. Pronay Halder needlessly brought down the J.League player
A pinpoint delivery from the free kick which followed from Bunmathan (plays for Vissel Kobe in the J.League alongside Iniesta and Podolski) found the head of the prolific Teerasil Dangda who just had to nod the ball in.
The scores were tied as both teams went into the first-half break.
India looked a completely different side going into the second half after setting aside their initial nervy edginess. As early as in the 46th minute, Sunil Chhetri found Udanta Singh in space on the right flank. The winger squared the ball into Ashique who flicked the ball o
A quick glance at the ‘Running Sum of xG‘ reveals how India kept getting better in the second half whereas the Thai chance creation metric literally flat-lined with them barely able to muster a challenge against the Indian onslaught.
After taking the lead, India added a third when Udanta Singh whose run in the box and hesitancy to shoot saw the chance evaporating – but he squared the ball to Anirudh Thapa and the youngster scored with a delightful finish with the Thai keeper out of position and out of sorts.
A fourth goal followed soon after when the Mizo sniper Jeje (no goals in ISL this season for Chennaiyin) who had just come in controlled the ball in the box with his first touch of the game and toe-poked with his second.
Ashique Kuruniyan, Udanta Singh and Halicharan Narzary’s quick transitions and ability to lay off the ball to players in space almost telepathically proved to be the difference and they are the top creators (Expected Assists) in today’s game. The 21-year-old Ashique was a revelation and looked completely at ease and at home in the national team colours.
The Indian team’s attacking performance in the second half tonight (xG 1.76 to Thailand’s 0.67) augurs well for the side. If they tighten up in defence, especially with set-piece defending, there is every chance they will make it to the knockout rounds – a thought which seemed out of bounds for many in the leadup to the tournament.