A dominant India struck two quick first-half goals to beat lower-ranked Mongolia 2-0 and begin their Intercontinental Cup campaign on a winning note in Bhubaneswar on Friday. (More Football News)
Sahal Abdul Samad and Lallianzuala Chhangte scored in the second and 14th minute, respectively, as the 101st-ranked Indians emerged victorious over their opponents placed 183rd in the world, at the Kalinga Stadium in hot and humid conditions.
India, the 2018 edition champions, dominated the match for the most part, attacking and creating chances while the Mongolians were left to defend their citadel. The home side had 65 per cent possession in the match.
The only worrying part for head coach Igor Stimac was the inability of his attackers to find the opposition net on numerous occasions in the second half.
Captain and talisman Chhetri had a relatively quiet day as he played deeper than he usually does and was replaced by Rahim Ali in the 71st minute. Lalengmawia Ralte also was not up to the mark and he was replaced by Jeakson Singh.
India made a fast start and were 2-0 up inside 15 minutes with strikes from Sahal and Chhangte.
Midfielder Anirudh Thapa found himself in the clear on the right flank in the second minute and he pulled one back into the middle of the penalty box. The Mongolian keeper got a hand to it but Sahal was there to fire home with a low left-footer.
There was a brief period when the Mongolians tried to settle down, keeping the ball to themselves, but the Blue Tigers were on the prowl and scored soon from a corner.
Thapa was involved yet again as his 14th-minute corner and Sandesh Jhinghan's header rebounded off a Mongolian defender on the goal-line and Chhangte was in hand to poke the ball into the net.
Three minutes later, Udanta Singh got the ball from captain Chhetri inside the Mongolian box and he appeared to have been tripped by a defender. The Indians shouted for a penalty but the referee had none of it.
Mongolia also had their own penalty claim in the 37th minute when their midfielder Baljinnyam Batmunkh was at the receiving end of a sliding tackle from behind by Anwar Ali but the referee turned down the visiting side's claim.
India were clearly the dominant side in the first half with 53 per cent possession and seven shots at opposition goal of which three were on target.
The home side dominance continued in the second half, but they found it hard to break down the Mongolian defence. The Mongolian defence did better in the second 45 minutes than the first as they brought more men to deny the Indians from scoring.
Udanta had a clear run inside the Mongolian box in the 55th minute after a Sahal flick, but he failed to keep his shot down. Udanta and Sahal were replaced by Rohit Kumar and Naorem Mahesh at the hour mark in search of goals.
The introduction of fresh legs led to a flurry of shots at the Mongolian goal, though without success. Rohit nearly scored in the 83rd minute but his header off a Thapa corner got the fingertips of the Mongolian goalkeeper and ricocheted off the woodwork.
Just before the start of the match, both sides observed a minute's silence to pay respect to the victims of the Odisha train tragedy.
India play Vanuatu in their second round-robin league match on Monday.