Sunil Chhetri completes hattrick as India hammer Pakistan 4-0 in SAFF Championship opener
India opened the SAFF Championship on a perfect note as a hattrick by Chhetri and a late goal by Udanta saw Blue Tigers hammer Pakistan 4-0.
India opened the SAFF Championship 2023 on a perfect note as a hattrick by Sunil Chhetri and a late goal by substitute Udanta Singh saw Blue Tigers hammer Pakistan 4-0 in their first match at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru on a rainy Wednesday night. As expected India dominated the proceedings and Chhetri made the most use of the chances that were served to him by Pakistan defenders and the goalkeeper, who stood no match for the hosts.
The match started with midfielder Anirudh Thapa being fouled just yards in front of the centerline inside the opening minute, following which Jeakson Singh took the setpiece and sent the ball inside the D only to end in a goal kick. The action then shifted towards the opposite end as Pakistan earned an early corner inside the five minutes, but it neither troubled the Indian defenders nor the goalkeeper.
However, after that, it was all India, who attacked throughout the match and it started with Ashique Kuruniyan hitting a side-netter in the sixth minute. Moments later Pakistan goalkeeper Saqib Hanif made a schoolboy error as a goal kick taken by him went straight to Chhetri, standing at the mouth of the goal but a couple of yards outside the box. However, the Pakistan centreback quickly reacted to the mistake and intercepted the shot by the Indian captain, which resulted in a corner.
Moments later the Pakistan goalkeeper made another error, which proved costly as India broke the deadlock in the 10th minute. The action started with Sandesh Jhingan conceding a freekick right at the half-line. However, Pakistan chose to roll the ball backwards and it eventually reached the goalkeeper, who took two touches before deciding to clear it. However, he lost control of the ball as Chhetri then galloping forward to press the keeper, stole possession and tapped the ball in the back of an open goalpost.
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The hosts kept attacking and Chhetri doubled India's lead five minutes after scoring his first, this time in the form of a penalty, which was rewarded after the ball hit a Pakistan defender's hand before flying over the goalpost.
Minutes later Jhingan almost gave India their third goal as Thapa sent a setpiece from the right side, just front of the halfline into the D, which was headed wide of the post by the tall centreback.
The attacks continued from both flanks and a good link-up was witnessed between defender Pritam Kotal and Lallianzuala Chhangte inside the D in the 25th minute, before the Mizo forward blasted the ball on target but only to find the Pakistan goalkeeper at the back of it.
A couple of minutes later India earned a corner and Thapa took a short one, passing the ball to Jeakson standing near the corner flag. Jeakson then ran with it, dribbling past defenders before taking a strike at the near post but his effort ended in a side-netting.
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Pakistan defender Muhammad Umar Hayat then conceded a freekick outside the box, which also saw the first booking of the match. As Chhetri prepared himself for the setpiece, crowd started chanting "Hattrick Hattrick" but the talismanic striker, who mostly converts setpieces, this time failed to find the target as the ball sailed over the crossbar.
This was not it as an ugly fight broke out between players of both the sides, with Indian coach Igor Stimac's antiques on the sidelines igniting the reaction. The coach tapped the ball out of Pakistan's Abdullah Iqbal's hands as he prepared to take a throw near India's technical area, making the tourists furious, who were already frustrated after conceding two goals. The Pakistan players, support staffs didn't hold back from retaliating drawing players from both teams at the technical area.
Chhetri, goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, who didn't start at the goal, tried to separate the two parties, but the provocation was enough for the referee to show Stimac a red card.
The problems didn't stop there as Pakistan goalkeeping coach Marcelo Schroeder Costa headbutted India manager Velu Dhayalamani. Costa was dragged back to the Pakistan dugout by a group of Pakistan extras and staff members as he gestured towards the referee to punish the offencers.
The second half saw assistant coach Mahesh Gawli take charge while India maintained the tempo. Kuruniyan ran from the left flank and took an attempt at the goal as the second half started but it was collected on the bounce by the Pakistan goalkeeper.
The substitutes then came in from both the sides and it was in the 75th minute Chhetri finally completed his hattrick. Making a sensational run from his own half, Chhetri reached the opposition's box and looked towards his left to find Indian shirts. However, with no one available he himself chose to cut inside and was fouled by a defender in the process. The Indian skipper once again stepped up for the spotkick and smashed it at the top corner to complete his hattrick before being substituted by Liston Colaco in the 86th minute.
The fourth goal from India came in the 81st minute when a long ball by centre-back Anwar Ali broke Pakistan's high press and found Udanta umarked right in front of the opposition's D. He controlled it and then calmly sent the ball inside the goalpost from a one-on-one situation.