Indian skipper Sunil Chhetri proved his worth again as his solitary goal in the 90th minute broke a 64-year jinx of beating Myanmar at home in the 2019 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup qualifier round here on Tuesday.
Udanta Singh’s exquisite pass from inside the box was calmly converted by Chhetri to start the campaign on a winning note.
Bengaluru FC star Chhetri’s 53rd goal for the national team helped India go to the top of group A in the Asian Cup qualifiers third round.
However, the victory was very difficult. Myanmar, who are 29 places below India’s world ranking of 133, forced the visitors to begin on a cautious note. Myanmar could have scored within the first five minutes but prudent defender Anas Edathodika kept Kyaw Ko Ko at bay.
Chhetri, who was named captain by coach Stephen Constantine on Tuesday, hit the gas immediately when he cut into from the left flank but the Myanmar defender deflected the danger with utmost precision.
India got back-to-back throws adjacent to the opposition penalty box but Myanmar defenders outnumbered their Indian counterparts to prevent them from drawing first blood.
Meanwhile, Eugeneson Lyngdoh started to fall back time and again to provide more support to the Indian defence line.
Just after the 15-minute mark, peril loomed large for India when Thein Than Win and Si Thu Aung combined well and launched a blistering attack from the left flank but the cross was cleared by Edathodika, who was making his international debut.
India started to build up the attack gradually from the midfield and the first categorical chance came for the visitors after the 20-minute mark.
Jackichand Singh outran the Myanmar defender and unleashed a long cross from the right flank. Had Robin Singh jumped a second earlier, India could have broken the deadlock but the Myanmar goalie grabbed the ball.
Myanmar came very close to scoring once again but Aung Thu missed tapping it into an open net. Gurpreet, meanwhile, showed his composure time and again to grab the long crosses to keep his team in the running.
The best chance came for India just at the stroke of the half-hour mark when Robin’s through pass was skied by Jackichand from a handshaking distance to leave the Indian dugout shell-shocked.
Chhetri tried to outrun the right-back but the custodian came in between to leave him frustrated. Eugeneson Lyngdoh tried his luck from 30-yard out but his long-range shot kissed the roof of the net.
At the stroke of half-time, Sunil was tackled hard inside the penalty box but the referee didn’t pay any heed to the Indian players’ penalty shout.
Seconds before the changeover, Kyaw Ko Ko almost found the back of the net but his grounder went astray.
Myanmar resumed where they had left in the first half. Their fast-paced wingers hurled themselves on India but the defenders showed their resilience to keep the scorecard unscathed.
In the 70th minute, against the run of the play, Udanta outpaced the Myanmar defender who was eventually brought down inside the box. But the referee negated the Indians loud shout for what looked like a legitimate penalty.
India changed gears with 10 minutes left on the clock but the Myanmar defenders kept them at bay.
Three minutes to the end of the regulation time, Constantine introduced Halicharan Narzary to bring more agility into the attack.
The biggest moment of the match came for India in the last minute. Super-sub Udanta, on a brilliantly executed counter-attacking move, broke in from the right wing to unleash an inch-perfect pass to Chhetri, who rattled the back of the net to silence the 20,000-strong crowd.
India will now host Kyrgyzstan on June 12 in their second match of the AFC Asian Cup Qualifying campaign before taking on Lebanon in an International Friendly on June 6.