Sunil Chhetri’s late strike provides India with a 1-0 win over Vanuatu
India continued their winning run in the Intercontinental Cup 2023 with a 1-0 win over 164th-ranked Vanuatu at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar. After tireless pursuits by the entire team, Sunil Chhetri found the back of the net in the 81st minute to seal the victory.
India started the match in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Igor Stimac fielding a completely new-look team. Gurpreet Singh Sandhu donned the gloves with Subhasish Bose and Pritam Kotal playing as the full-backs. Mehtab Singh and Sandesh Jhingan occupied the heart of the defense with Rowllin Borges and Rohit Kumar playing as the two central defensive midfielders.
While Liston Colaco was deployed as the attacking midfielder, Nandhakumar Sekar and Naorem Mahesh Singh played as the two wingers. Sunil Chhetri played as the lone striker.
Vanuatu took the field in a 4-4-2 formation with goalkeeper Massing Kalotang guarding the sticks. Brian Kaltack, Timothy Boulet, Jason Thomas, and Wohale formed the back four. Claude Aru, Jonathan Spokeyjack, Michel Coulon, and Godine Tenene played as the four midfielders, mostly entrusted to do the defensive duties. Azariah Soromon and Alex Saniel played as the two strikers.
Vanuatu took the first shot of the game in the 6th minute when Thomas found a loose ball inside the box after India failed to make a timely clearance. However, the defender’s shot flew inches above the crossbar. In the 12th minute, India responded with a shot of its own when Chhetri found himself at the end of a cross from Kotal. However, the captain’s shot blazed over the woodwork.
Vanuatu captain Kaltack stood up to the occasion four minutes later when Bose trapped Kotal’s cross from the far end and cut it back towards Nandha. However, Kaltack’s timely intervention ensured the ball never reached the back of the net.
In the 21st minute, Liston unleashed a shot from outside the box but it failed to dip in time and sailed over the crossbar. Liston was once again in the thick of things in the 35th minute when he laid a pass towards Nandha but the latter’s shot was off-target.
Six minutes later, Mahesh’s cross from the right flank found Chhetri but the latter failed to keep his header on target. In the dying minutes of the first half, Saniel collected a pass from Timothy but skied his resultant shot.
India nearly got the opportunity to take the lead in the 56th minute when Chhetri found himself through on goal. Rather than taking a shot, he preferred to dribble his way past the defenders and failed to pull the trigger on time.
Saniel took a shot from inside the box one minute later but it fell straight into the hands of Gurpreet. In the 60th minute, Mahesh made a lunging run in the right flank and crossed the ball towards Chhetri but the latter’s stooping header was inches wide.
Substitute Anirudh Thapa nearly found his name on the scorer’s sheet with his shot from inside the box but Kaltack threw his body just in time to angle the ball out of play. Thapa’s cross towards the far post in the 78th minute nearly found Mehtab but his header was off target.
India’s wait finally came to an end in the 80th minute when Chhetri chested a cross from Bose and smashed it towards the roof of the net. He also announced to the world that he is expecting a child with his celebration.
Earlier in the day, Mongolia held their lines to force a 0-0 draw against Lebanon. Following the win, India has booked their spot in the final of Intercontinental Cup 2023.