5 Takeaways from India’s 4-1 Win Over Higher Ranked Puerto Rico
India beat Puerto Rico 4-1 in a friendly on Saturday night.
It was a special night at the Andheri Sports Complex, Mumbai, as international football returned to the city for the first time since 1961. The cherry on the cake was that the Blue Tigers managed to tame Puerto Rico 4-1, in what was a convincing victory.
It’s a special victory especially because the Caribbean nation is ranked 114th in the world, some 38 ranks above India. It’s been long since India last beat a higher ranked team while the previous non-Asian team to visit India, Zambia defeated the hosts 5-0, back in 2011.
With this win, India extend their winning record to four consecutive matches while Puerto Rico made it a hat trick of losses. Here are five takeaways for the hosts from the match:
1. New Captain, New Energy
Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, the first Indian to play a Europa league qualifier, made his captaincy debut and it was nothing short of a fairy tale. There was an initial hiccup when India conceded a penalty in the seventh minute of the game and Sandhu misjudged Emmanuel Sanchez’s shot and dived on the wrong side.
But in a spirited display, the hosts didn’t just equalise 11 minutes later, but also demolished the Puerto Rican attack. And back in the goal line, the man played a pivotal role in keeping the team intact. Gurpeet often reminded his team to keep the shape of the defense line intact. Not only did he motivate his teammates, but he also led the charge, using his experience in Europe. One could hear him directing his teammates who to mark and who to follow. His displayed exemplary leadership, which allowed Sunil Chhetri to play without any tension and create two and score one beautiful goal. This is very good news for India indeed.
2. The Attacking Intent
It is very refreshing to see the team’s eagerness to attack as a whole. The last match played by us was the AFC Qualifier against Laos, a match which India won 6-1. The match in Guwahati saw a new Indian team who did not back down, despite conceding the first goal. The team stuck to its offensive play and won the match comprehensively.
The same intent was visible in this match, with India conceding the first goal yet again. The attack, however, remained consistent. The first 20 minutes saw a relentless Puerto Rican attack but that did not deter India. Slowly and steadily, India picked up ball possession (final possession 50-50) and pressurized the opposition defense line to create goals.
This attack was led by none other than India’s highest goal scorer Sunil Chhetri, and India’s current player of the year, Jeje Lalpekhlua. It was pleasure to watch the one-two, one-two between the players, which dissected the opposition’s defense.
The first goal (18’) came when Chettri took a free kick from the left edge of the box, which unfortunately hit the left post. But a vigilant Narayan Das chipped the ball inside, much to the surprise of the entire Puerto Rican team. India scored again when Chettri took another free kick, this time from the right side in the 26th minute. The ball hit the left post yet again, but this time it reflected into the net.
The duo of Jeje and Chhetri was responsible for the pressure created which resulted in both free kicks. The third goal was the creation of both, with Chhetri assisting a brilliant head goal by Jeje.
3. Good Defence
India’s defence was commendable throughout the match. All of India’s full backs played really well and kept the opposition attack at bay. In the second half, there were time when Indian goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh was seen standing at the half line as the Puetro Rican attack failed to make its way into the Indian half.
Sandesh Jhingan was impactful, if not greatly impressive. Apart from making a handful of great interceptions, he marked all his men well and did not allow much space. Another noteworthy name is Pritam Kotwal, who kept things neat for Gurpreet in the right back position.
4. Widening India’s Bench
Coach Stephen Constantine kept his debut handling spree intact with Mizo lad Daniel Lalhlimpuia becoming India’s 24th debutant this season. The coach is not only widening India’s bench strength but also bringing variety into India’s game play. In the last match it was Keegan Pereira who impressed in his first game and this time it was Lalhlimpuia who filled in the big shoes of Sunil Chhteri, whom he substituted.
5. Inspiring Crowd Support
A crowd of 6,894 fans made sure that India’s memorable win will remain special for a long time to come. The atmosphere was insane at the Andheri Sports Complex with fans shouting names of players and cheering for them. They sang patriotic songs to keep the spirit ablaze. At times they did shout uncalled for slogans, but the overall atmosphere at the stadium was electrifying. In fact, at the end of the match there were a couple of intruders, who wanted to hug and meet their favourite players.
Such an environment is conducive for Indian football. Support of this kind will ensure that the country’s football team rises through the ranks.
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