Chhetri's Hat-Trick Helps India Defeat Pakistan.
SAFF CHAMPIONSHIP: The Pakistan Players found Chhetri too hot to handle.
Sunil Chhetri hat-trick powered India to an easy 4-0 victory over Pakistan in its SAFF championship opener at a rain-soaked Sree Kanteerava Stadium here on Wednesday. It was an underwhelming hat-trick - two penalties and a gift from the Pakistan goalie- but the skipper wouldn't have minded, for the strikes took him to 90 international goals and fourth in the all-time list. In its first half, Pakistan looked every bit the team that had arrived on the day of the match and without sufficient practise. Matters had, in fact, gotten worse for the visitors as 14 players had to be split up from the main group because of logistic reasons and that bunch ended up missing the flight from Mumbai, reaching Bengaluru barely hours before the kick-off.
Pakistan's play was as disjointed. Goalkeeper Saqib Hanif was the first to display the signs, planting a kick straight at Chhetri, who slotted the ball into an empty net as early as the 10th minute. Six minutes later, Chhetri doubled the lead from the penalty spot. Easah Suliman, the 25-year old centre-back and former England under-20 international, conceded the foul when the ball struck his outstretched arm while defending a shot from Anirudh Thapa. For the rest of the half, India ran rings around its South Asian neighbour. The likes of Sahal Abdul Samad and Lallianzuala Chhangte dribbled past the Pakistan players as if they were training ones. It was a pity that the scoreline didn't swell.
But a touchline scuffle just before half-time involving Indian Head coach Igor Stimac brought the spark back. Stimac impeded a Pakistan throw-in, and in a flash both sets of players were at each others' throats. Some cool heads like Chhetri intervened to calm things down, but it couldn't save Stimac from a red card. There were some anxious moments when three intruders ran on to the turf over a 45-minute period, with the second going all the way up to the centre circle and within handshake distance of Chhetri. Fans saw the funny side of it and just when it seemed like that it would be the last memory they would carry, substitute Udanta Singh applied the finishing touches, scoring his team's fourth.
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