India scores four past Hong Kong to call curtains to a fantastic 2023 AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers campaign

India registered their third consecutive victory

India defeated Hong Kong by a comprehensive 4-0 margin to secure pole position in Group D of the 2023 AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers third round, and subsequently book their place in the main competition which will be held next year. Anwar Ali, Sunil Chhetri, Manvir Singh and Ishan Pandita scored the goals for the hosts.

Given that this was essentially a dead rubber encounter, both coaches made a few changes to their team. Igor Stimac made two changes to his starting XI – last match’s hero Sahal Abdul Samad was rewarded with a start, while Udanta Singh also got an opportunity. Meanwhile, Manvir and Liston Colaco were given some much-needed rest.

On the other hand, Jorn Andersen also made one tweak to the team that won 3-0 over Cambodia. Eastern defender Fung Hing Wa was given a chance to showcase their talent, whilst his club-mate Yue Tze Nam was dropped to the bench.

India had a dream start to the game, opening the scoring in only the second minute. A precise corner found Ashique Kuruniyan unmarked, but his shot was blocked by one of Andersen’s defenders. However, young defender Ali was at the right place and at the right time to tuck home the rebound.

From then onwards, it was all about the Blue Tigers’ uncontested dominance, but the visitors did have a rare chance in the 12th minute when a corner almost caught Stimac’s backline napping but no Hong Kong player was alert to capitalize on it.

Three minutes later, Wong Wai had a crack at the long, but his effort did not trouble India’s last line of defense, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu. India had another glorious opportunity just before the half-hour mark when Udanta drilled in a cross, with Chhetri being the intended target. While the initial cross was blocked, the rebound fell to Samad who almost scored twice in as many games, but the crossbar ruined his party.

The Strength got another rare opportunity in the 39th minute when Gurpreet misjudged the flight of a ball with Matt Orr lurking nearby, but the Kitchee striker could not keep his header on target.

This missed chance proved to be costly, as India eventually doubled their advantage just before half-time. Jeakson Singh found Chhetri with an accurately measured freekick, and after beautifully getting the ball in his control, the Indian skipper scored past a helpless Yapp Hung Fai to bring up his 84th goal for his nation.

The second half started exactly like the first, with Stimac’s team enjoying lion’s share of the possession. Udanta tried his luck from distance just four minutes into the half, but unfortunately, he was not as clinical as his captain.

Sunil Chhetri scored his 84th goal for India

Sunil Chhetri scored his 84th goal for India

Chhetri himself came agonizingly score to scoring his second goal only a couple of minutes later, but this time around, Hong Kong’s custodian Fai denied him the glory by pulling off a fantastic save. With the match and the competition effectively being settled, Stimac then tried to experiment with his team combination by replacing Chhetri, Sahal, and Udanta with Brandon Fernandes, Liston, and Manvir respectively.

The changes paid dividends almost immediately, since, in the 85th minute of the match, one substitute in Brandon found another in Manvir with a cross, and the latter made no mistake in finding the back of the net.

However, the Blue Tigers were not over with their task yet. As if to show gratitude to a loyal and passionate crowd in Kolkata, Stimac’s team did score their fourth goal just seconds before the full-time whistle. Manvir played the role of a provider this time around, as he darted down the right flank before finding Pandita with a pass and the youngster finally scored his first goal for the Indian team.

Hong Kong will now compete in the 2022 EAFF E-1 Football Championship, where they will rub shoulders with three of Asia’s most formidable teams in Japan, China PR and South Korea. On the other hand, there is currently no clarity on India’s upcoming fixtures.