Asian Cup: India sends shock waves with 3-1 win over Thailand
Rick Olivares (Associated Press) - January 7, 2019 - 12:29pm

MANILA, Philippines – India celebrated its fourth entry into the AFC Asian Cup with a stunning 4-1 win over Thailand Sunday at the Al Nhayan Stadium in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates.
Indian scoring machine Sunil Chhetri scored a brace in leading his country to its first Asian Cup win since 1964.

Midfielder Anirudh Thapa and Jeje Lalpekhlua added to the effort against Teerasil Dangda’s lone goal for Thailand.

Ironically, India once placed second in the Asian Cup and that was back in 1964 when only four nations — Israel, South Korea, Hong Kong and India — participated in the Asian Cup. Israel won the cup over India which defeated South Korea, 2-nil, and Hong Kong, 3-1. In the two other times India qualified — in 1984 and 2011 — they finished with a combined 0-1-6 record.

The win should send shudders down the spines of Asian footballing nations because that scoreless draw with China in October of 2018 is apparently no fluke. 

And the second most populous country in the world after China — where cricket is king and field hockey is second — is also knocking on the NBA’s door when 7’2” Satnam Singh Bhamara being the first Indian drafted when the Dallas Mavericks chose him with the 52nd pick in the 2015 draft. Bhamara didn’t play a single NBA game and is instead plying his trade in the NBA G-League where a countryman of his, 6’9” Palpreet Singh Brar is also performing and also has the chance to be the first Indian to play in the NBA. 

During the draw against China and in the win versus favored Thailand, which made the semifinals of the recent Suzuki Cup despite missing several key players including Dangda, the Indian defense shone. Just as they did against China, gritty goal keeper Gurpreet Sangdu and defenders Anas Edathodika, Subhasish Bose, Sandesh Jhingan and Pritam Kotal held off Thailand.

It should be noted that against both China and Thailand, the opposing teams owned the majority of possession and completed more passes. Of course, the majority of ball possession doesn’t translate into a win. It is India more hurting opponents on the counter while playing stingy defense. 

Completing the historic night for India was the 34-year-old Chhetri, who with his two goals moved past Argentine superstar Lionel Messi with his 66th and 67th goals in 105 matches. Messi has so far scored 65 goals from 128 matches. Portugal superstar Cristiano Ronaldo is the highest scorer with 85 from 154 matches. 

A draw in either of the two coming matches against UAE and Bahrain could see 97th-ranked India through to the knockout round.

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