India did find their equaliser before the break, somehow, against a Mauritius team that was the better side for the first 45 minutes. It took a close range strike from Robin Singh, who scored for the first time since November 2015, to restore parity after Jean Jocelyn had given the visitors the lead at the Andheri Sports Complex.
Coach Stephen Constantine had fielded a relatively experienced starting XI for the friendly, but the winner would eventually come from Balwant Singh, who has played for the national team just once before — that too for only five minutes. Balwant entered the game as a half-time substitute, replacing Robin at a time when the movement in the attacking third by the hosts was static, and posed little threat to the opposition defenders.
After Balwant’s introduction, the Mauritius’ midfield was pushed back to counter the pressure the Blue Tigers were building up. Balwant’s movement freed up his teammates, particularly strike-partner Jeje Lalpekhlua, who had been closely watched by defenders.
In the 62nd minute, the pair combined to score the winner. Receiving a grounded pass by Eugeneson Lyngdoh deep in his own half, Jeje cleverly flicked the ball to his right to find an unmarked Balwant. The forward, who became the first ever Indian to score in the Indian Super League back in 2014 (months after his five-minute international debut against Bangladesh) latched onto the pass, took a few quick strides into the box, and powerfully drove his shot which goalkeeper Kevin Jean-Louis only managed to get a weak touch on.
“Balwant was superb today, he absolutely ran himself to the ground,” says Constantine. “I’m glad he got his first goal.” Over the 90 minutes, Constantine awarded three more debuts – Amrinder Singh, Nikhil Poojary and Manvir Singh. The latter had a chance to increase the gap, but his long-range effort soared just over the crossbar.
Despite India getting its ninth consecutive win, Constantine wasn’t too pleased with his team’s performance. Mauritius’ opening goal, in the 15th minute, came after their striker was left unmarked inside the box.