Masterminded superbly by ace striker Sunil Chhetri, a dominant India scripted a sensational 4-1 win over higher-ranked Puerto Rico in an international football friendly at the Andheri Sports Complex stadium on Sunday.
India were down 0-1 in the seventh minute with Emmanuel Sanchez scoring off a spot-kick award, but the hosts went on to dominate the visitors, ranked 38 places above them, with some slick passing and quick attacking moves.
India, who led 3-1 at the half-way stage, scored their goals through Narayan Das (18th minute), Chhetri (26th), Jeje Lalpekhlua (34th) and Jackichand Singh (58th).
Chhetri, who had given away his captain’s armband to Norway-based towering custodian Gurpreet Singh Sandhu for this game, paved the way for two goals and also struck once to emerge as the star player for the home country.
This was India’s fourth straight victory after the 1-2 loss to Turkmenistan in the World Cup qualifier in Kochi in March early this year. They had got past Laos 6-1 and 1-0 in the Asia Cup qualifiers in June and then drubbed Bhutan 3-0 last month in another international friendly.
India have not beaten higher-ranked teams often in the past and had even lost 1-2 to Afghanistan in the SAFF Cup in Kochi in January.
This victory, albeit against a none-too-strong-looking Puerto Rico side, which had arrived here only last evening and clearly looked tired after their long journey, thus must have pleased national coach Stephen Constantine who included several youngsters to prop up the team.
India, in fact, started the match - the first in Mumbai after six decades on the wrong foot by conceding a penalty in the seventh minute when Elliot Velez was brought down on the left of the area by Jackichand Singh.
The spot-kick was put in by the tall medio Sanchez who beat Indian custodian and match skipper Gurpreet to bulge the bottom right corner of the goal.
This early reversal galvanized the hosts, ranked 152 as compared to their rivals’ 114, into an attacking mode and they started attacking with gusto with the midfield prompting the two front-liners with down-the-middle passes.
The hosts could have equalised in the 12th minute but for the rival goalkeeper rushing out and foiling Chhetri before he could take advantage of a fine through ball from Eugeneson Lyngdoh.
The hosts then started dominating the proceedings and got rich rewards when they scored twice with the help of free kicks with Chhetri playing a stellar role in both these strikes.
Sunil Chhetri is regarded as the most popular footballer and best striker of India.To date, he has represented India 91 times in official matches, scoring 51 international goals, and once in an unofficial match, scoring a single goal in that match as well. He is India’s all-time top international goalscorer as well as the most-capped player with 51 goals in 91 official international matches. He is referred to as “goal machine” by Indian media.
He also previously appeared thrice for the India U-20 side and scored 2 goals in the 2004 South Asian Games, which are not considered as the official ones.