SAFF Championship: Chhetri’s hat-trick and a goal from Udanta Singh ensured India began their title defence of the regional championship with an easy 4-0 victory against their neighbours on a rainy night at the Sree Kanteerva Stadium.
Saqib Hanif buried his face in his hands, his teammates encircling him to comfort him, and it was hard not to feel bad for the broken and humiliated player.
Only seven hours before the match against India began, the Pakistani custodian and 19 other players arrived in Bengaluru. Hanif arrived to the South Asian Football Championship’s first match with little sleep and fatigue from a lengthy overnight flight from Mauritius to Mumbai. He was mentally clouded. Only Hanif will know if it was that, stage fright from playing in front of 22,860 spectators, or the wet field. However, in the 10th minute, his mistake allowed India to overrun the field and ended any chance of a surprise.
Hanif caught a back pass from a defender and attempted to run with his right foot while controlling the ball with his left, but he completely missed the ball, lost his balance, and went down on his bottom. Sunil Chhetri was handed it on a silver platter and slid it into an empty net, one of the easier goals he would have ever scored in his two-decade playing career.
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SAFF Championship; Pakistan not in form or just bad?
Few mismatches are as large as this one. Both on paper and in real life; statistically and in terms of scores. Ranked 195th in the world is Pakistan. According to FIFA rankings, only 16 nations are worse than them. Five years ago, they last enjoyed an international win. They have lost three times while giving up seven goals alone in the past ten days.
Suliman, the captain of Pakistan, claimed that his team had not practised for the past three days. Pakistan found it difficult to adjust to India’s speed; Lallianzuala Chhangte and Ashique Kuruniyan were unstoppable on the wings; Sahal Abdul Samad was the playmaker in chief in the middle; and Anirudh Thapa exuded class and composure.
Pakistan was not only outrun but also outmuscled as India coupled their wide-area fluid interplay with a more direct approach, with the center-backs thrashing the ball forward in the path of the forwards. As much attention as Chhetri’s hat trick and the offensive display will receive, India’s defence enjoyed another successful day at work as they produced their seventh straight clean sheet, the longest stretch for the national team.
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