A Sunil Chhetri hat-trick and late Udanta Singh goal power India to a 4-0 win over Pakistan
India started their 2023 SAFF Championship with a commanding 4-0 win over neighbors Pakistan at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru. Sunil Chhetri netted a hat-trick as he now has 90 international goals to his name while Udanta Singh scored a late goal to dash any hopes of Pakistan comeback.
India made three changes to the side that beat Lebanon in the final of 2023 Intercontinental Cup with Amrinder Singh replacing Gurpreet Singh Sandhu between the sticks in a 4-4-2 formation. Pritam Kotal and Subhasish Bose played as the full backs with Sandesh Jhingan and Anwar Ali slotting in the heart of defense.
Anirudh Thapa and Jeakson Singh played in the middle of the park with Sahal Abdul Samad and Lallianzuala Chhangte bombarding from the flanks. Ashique Kuruniyan and Sunil Chhetri were deployed as the two forwards.
On the other hand, it looked tough that Pakistan would be able to take the field as their full-strength squad reached Bengaluru only six hours prior to kickoff. Shahzad Anwar arranged his players in a 5-4-1 formation with Saqib Hanif donning the gloves.
Muhammad Sufiyan, Abdullah Iqbal, Easah Suliman, Mamoon Moosa, and Mohammad Umar Hayat formed the back five. Otis Khan, Rahis Nabi, Ali Uzair Mahmood, and Harun Ar-Rashid Faheem Hamid played in the midfield with Hassan Bashir acting as the lone striker.
India got the first chance of the game in the second minute when Bose whipped a cross from the left flank which was connected by Chhetri. However, the captain’s header looped in the air before nestling in the hands of the keeper. Hanif’s goal kick five minutes later was intercepted by Chhetri who aimed for glory from distance. But, Suliman came up with a timely block to thwart the danger.
There was no stopping Chhetri the third time in the 10th minute when Hanif’s mispass towards the Indian captain at the edge of the box was bundled home. Thapa took a shot from inside the box but it struck the outstretched hand of Iqbal. The referee pointed towards the spot and Chhetri curled the ball towards his left side in the 16th minute.
Chhetri trapped Kotal’s pass from the right flank and turned past his marker to take a shot from a tight angle. However, Hanif was positioned perfectly to collect the ball. Igor Stimac intercepted Pakistan from taking a quick throw-in by dislodging the ball and got into a heated argument with the Pakistani players. The referee showed no qualms by brandishing him a red card at the dying embers of the first half. Mahesh Gawli took charge of the Blue Tigers for the rest of the game.
Ashique burst through the left flank but his final shot was chipped straight to the keeper’s hands after the restart of play. Sahal’s free-kick was nodded by Jhingan in the 67th minute but it hit the woodwork.
Sufiyan shoved Chhetri from behind inside the box in the 74th minute and the referee once again pointed towards the spot. Waiting for the keeper to commit, Chhetri swung the ball into the top left corner to complete his hat-trick.
Substitute Udanta Singh found his name in the scoresheet after he beat the offside trap in the 81st minute. Anwar Ali lobbed a long ball that bypassed Pakistan’s defense and midfield and Udanta trapped the ball with a sublime first touch. The former Bengaluru striker made no mistake in slamming the ball past the keeper’s reach.
India will be happy with their performance as they are yet to taste defeat in their last seven matches. Moreover, they haven’t conceded a single goal in the same period. The Blue Tigers will take on Nepal in their next fixture, who are coming off a 3-1 loss to Kuwait. Pakistan have Kuwait up against them in the next game and anything less than a win would knock them out from the tournament.