Captain Sunil Chhetri led from the front with a hat-trick as hosts India flexed their muscles and outplayed Chinese Taipei 5-0 to begin their campaign on a rousing note in the four-nation Intercontinental Cup in Mumbai on Friday night.
Chhetri, India’s all-time highest scorer, led by example once again, scoring in the 14th, 34th and 62nd minute of the opener at the Mumbai Football Arena.
This was Chhetri’s third hat-trick in international football, and first in eight years.
The India skipper’s team-mate at Bengaluru FC, Udanta Singh, netted the other goal in the 48th minute, in what was a thoroughly dominant display by Stephen Constantine’s men.
While Pronay Halder completed the rout of Chinese Taipei by finding the back of the net with his 78th minute long ranger from the edge of the box.
Not one to get carried away by his and the team’s performance, Chhetri thanked his colleagues, saying his main target is the 2019 Asian Cup.
“We are really happy with the result but 2019 Asian Cup is our main target,” Chhetri said after the game.
Such was India’s dominance — they enjoyed 67 percent possession — that their goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu remained a spectator for a major part of the game.
India started on the offensive straightaway and were rewarded for their attacking intent when Jeje Lalpekhlua forwarded a through ball for Chhetri to slot the ball past the Chinese Taipei goalkeeper following an expert first touch.
There was a brief halt in the proceedings owing to an injury to Subhashish Bose, following which the visiting side looked to get into the box a create their first real chance, but the attempted final shot was off target and also lacked power.
Instead, India doubled their lead as Chhetri, after a fine team display of one-touching passing by him and his team-mates Jeje and Anirudh Thapa at the edge of the box, struck from a difficult angle.
India went into the break with their noses way ahead.
And it remained the same in the second half as the hosts scored their third goal, this time through Udanta, who showed fine dribbling skills and sliced through the Taipei defence before finishing with his left foot.
Chinese Taipei survived a scare in the 57th minute when Anirudh Thapa’s cross from the left flank led Sunil Chhetri to unleash a first-time attempt onto goal, but the presence of a defender on the line saved the opponents from trailing further behind.
The 33-year-old skipper completed his hat-trick with a thundering strike into the top corner of the net following a lovely one-touch move.
Coach Constantine added to his list of debutants and handed international debuts to Subhashish and second half substitutes Ashique Kuruniyan and Alen Deory who replaced Halicharan Narzary and Chhetri respectively.