India`s talismanic captain Sunil Chhetri became the second-highest Asian goal-scorer in international football on Wednesday with a glittering hat-trick lacing India`s 4-0 win over Pakistan in their SAFF Championship opener. Ali Daei of Iran holds the record with 109 goals from 149 matches. Chhetri has 90 goals to his name.
From the beginning of the match itself India brought forth their experience and class into play. Pakistan had pockets of doughty resistance, but they were not a match to India`s cohesion and purpose on a rain-drenched night at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium.
Chhetri had shown sparks of his old ebullient self in the Intercontinental Cup final against Lebanon at Odisha on Sunday, and the Indian skipper stepped on the pedal on his `home turf`.
After getting a quick feel of the surface and their opponents, India started the goal rush as early as in the 10th minute through Chhetri, who netted through a fine field goal.
Six minute later, the talismanic forward doubled the lead through a penalty and at 2-0, the route which the match took was clear.
India pressed for more goals in the first half, but they could not add to the tally as Pakistan defence held their own. India too missed a couple of chances, though not easy, to pile pressure on their rivals.
However, the first-half ended in a rather disappointing note for India despite a handy 2-0 lead. An unnecessary attempt to impede a Pakistan player from taking the throw-in by coach Igor Stimac resulted in him slapped with a red card, and he had to leave the dug out for the night.
But that did not snap India`s momentum in the second half. The hosts pressed forward like a giant wave in search of more goals. The big moment came in the 74th minute when India made it 3-0.
Pakistan defenders brought down Chhetri inside the box and referee Prajwal Chhetri allowed a penalty kick for India, and the Indian skipper converted it to complete his hat-trick, also putting the match beyond the grasp of Pakistan.
From that point, it was a case of India`s victory margin and Udanta Singh passed more agony on the visitors with a goal in the 81st minute. Fed by a through pass by Sandesh Jhingan, Udanta made a good, speedy run down the pitch to slot the ball past Pakistan goalkeeper.
“Happy to keep clean sheet, happy to start tournament. Matches in these kinds of conditions are never easy. Happy people turned up, this is amazing, this is what we play for,” Chhetri said after the match.
It was a sumptuous performance by India that thrilled the 22860-strong crowd that thronged the stadium despite a heavy downpour. India will next face minnows Nepal in their second Group A match on Saturday.
(With agency inputs)