Guwahati: Striker Jeje Lalpekhlua scored twice as India recovered from a one-goal deficit to thrash Laos 6-1 in one of the biggest ever wins and book a berth in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup football Qualifiers today.
India trailed 0-1 in the 16th minute through a Khonesavanh Sihavong strike but the home side replied in a remarkable fashion as they dominated all through the remaining part of the match, pumping in six goals—including three in seven minutes—to walk away with an easy win.
Jeje Lalpekhlua (42nd and 74th minute), Sumeet Passi (45th), Sandesh Jhingan (49th), Mohd. Rafique (83rd) and debutant Fulganco Cardozo (87th) were the goal-getters for India in the second leg of the AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers play-off match at the Indira Gandhi Athletics Stadium.
India won the home and away tie 7-1 on aggregate to book a berth in the AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers. They had beaten Laos 1-0 in the first leg in Vientiane on June 2. This was one of the biggest ever wins for India.
They had to play in the play-offs after finishing at the bottom of their group in the joint preliminary round of the 2018 FIFA World Cup and 2019 AFC Asian Cup.
The victory and a berth in the Asian Cup Qualifiers will ease a lot of pressure on coach Stephen Constantine whose future has been under a scanner after a string of poor shows by the national team.
India took some time to settle down in the match played under slippery conditions and Laos were the better side in the initial 15 minutes. The visiting side created problems for the Indian defence from the right flank in this period.
India paid the price of relying on off-side trap as Sihavong found himself unmarked inside the box and he sent a low left footer past Indian goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu to the stunned silence of a sparse crowd at the stadium.
Jolted by the early reverse, India regrouped and they began dictating terms on their opponents. Just three minutes after the goal, Jeje had a chance to restore parity but his shot after a rebound from the goalkeeper went wide.
In the 21st minute, captain Sunil Chhetri thought he won a penalty after he was grounded inside the Laos penalty box but the referee had other ideas.
The game changing moment came in the 41st minute with coach Constantine replacing young Udanta Singh by Jackichand Singh whose coming in turned the match on its head with India pumping in three goals in the space of seven minutes to open the floodgates.
Mizoram striker Jeje chested the ball down before slotting home past the Laos goalkeeper to the wild cheer of the home supporters.
At the stroke of halftime, India took the lead with Passi, playing in his second international match, sending the ball into the empty net off a low cross from Jackichand from the left. This was Passi’s first international goal.
India continued their domination in the second half with central defender Jhingan entering his name in the scoresheets seven minutes after resumption as his header off a Eugenson Lyngdoh free-kick beat the Laos defenders and the goalkeeper all ends up.
With a 3-1 lead, India had taken the game away from the visitors’ reach but they did not relax a bit and scored three more goals against a hapless Laos to win the match in a tennis-like score and with one of the biggest margins in recent memory.
Jeje, who has been in the form of his life, scored his second goal of the match, as he received a beautifully weighted pass from Chhetri and sent a powerful grounder past the Laos goalkeeper into the bottom left corner of the net.
Passi made it 5-1 for India six minutes from the regulation time as his shot from the edge of the box off another Chhetri assist beat the Laos goalkeeper.
Cardoza completed the rout and the misery for Laos as he headed into the Laos net off another assist from Jackichand three minutes before the final whistle.