Thunder, thunderclaps and a brace from Sunil Chhetri were the highlights of the skipper’s 100th appearance for India, as the hosts thrashed Kenya 3-0 at the packed Mumbai Football Arena on Monday.
Between Chhetri’s second-half strikes was sandwiched Jeje Lalpekhlua’s goal that booked India’s spot in the final of the Intercontinental Cup on Sunday.
Chhetri had appealed for support and the fans obliged. More than 9000 spectators braved showers to witness Chhetri’s landmark match.
Kenya — more adept at handling the soggy condition, having beaten New Zealand in similar circumstances in their opening match — dominated the midfield as puddles forced teams to resort to the aerial route.
India’s defence though stood its ground, thwarting the Kenyan attacks that managed to weave passes despite the sodden field.
However, Chhetri soon adapted to the conditions. A sloppy clearance in the 22nd minute from the Kenya’s backline saw the ball roll on to Chhetri’s feet. The striker tried to lob the ball into the net but it went over the crossbar.
With rain relenting in the second half, India started the session on a positive note, but it was Kenya who missed two wonderful opportunities in quick succession.
A through ball to Ovella Ochieng gave him a gilt-edged opportunity to score but his meek attempt rolled just wide of the goal. Moments later Pistone Mutamba’s strike went wide off Gurpreet Sandhu’s far post.
With some luck, India took the lead in the 68th minute. Chhetri, attempting to bring a long ball under control was brought down by Michael Kibwage inches outside the box. But the referee awarded a penalty, which was dispatched into the top left corner by the skipper.
Captain Musa Mayeko’s poor clearance of a Holicahran pass fell kindly at Jeje’s feet, who made no mistake in finding the top-right corner to double India’s lead three minutes later.
Chhetri, repaying the love and affection of the spectators who had filled up the stadium on his emotional plea, rounded off the game in added time. Substitute Balwant Singh threaded the ball through to the 33-year-old, who kept his composure and dinked the ball over the goalkeeper before running to the stands celebrating.