India blank Pakistan 4-0 in SAFF Cup opener

By our correspondent

BENGALURU: Skipper Sunil Chhetri hit a treble as India downed the fatigued Pakistan 4-0 in their Group A opener of the SAFF Cup at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru, Karnataka, on Wednesday.

Pakistan were playing their opener just five hours after they arrived at the team’s hotel following a 24-hour long journey from Mauritius during which one group of players also missed a local flight at the Mumbai Airport where there was no official of the All India Football Federation (AIFF) to assist the Green-shirts.

India dominated the first half with their ever-green skipper Sunil Chhetri opened the hosts account in the tenth minute due to goalkeeping blunder.

In the 16th minute India were awarded a penalty kick after Anirudh Thapa’s drive hit Pakistani defender on his hand and Chhetri did not mistake to score from the spot which stretched their lead to 2-0.

India had marked possession of the ball in the first half and mostly put the tired Pakistani players on the back foot.

India, who recently also won the Inter-Continental Cup after outclassing Lebanon in the final, showed great ability in every zone and at half time they were leading 2-0.

In the 49th minute India were close to add to their tally but striker Samad missed a sitter inside the area when Pakistan’s gloveman Saqib Hanif had fumbled.

India put pressure and in the 73rd minute Chhetri was brought down in the area by Sufyan which earned for the hosts another penalty and Chhetri made no mistake again to complete his hat-trick in the 74th minute.

This was the 90th goal for Chhetri in his illustrious career.

In the 81st minute substitute Udanta added to India’s tally, taking them to 4-0.

Former Pakistan’s assistant coach Nasir Ismail said that fatigue due to long journey hurt Pakistan team.

“Pakistan’s players seemed fatigued, possibly due to jetlag and inadequate rest before the high-intensity match. This affected their overall performance on the field,” Nasir told this correspondent.

“The rainy weather posed a challenge for Pakistan as they are not accustomed to playing on wet grounds. The team struggled to adapt their game to the rainy conditions, which affected their overall game play,” said Nasir, also an AFC License A coach..

“In their previous matches in Mauritius Pakistan played on artificial pitches. However in the SAFF Championship in India, they had to adjust to playing on grassy fields. The sudden change without proper training sessions made it difficult for the team to adapt, particularly on a rainy grassy field,’ Nasir said.

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