In a thrilling encounter at the Intercontinental Cup, India emerged victorious with a hard-fought 1-0 win over Vanuatu. The day’s hero was the prolific Sunil Chhetri, who scored a stunning goal in the 81st minute to secure the crucial three points for his team.

Right from the kickoff, it was evident that both teams were determined to make their mark on the match. Under manager Igor Stimac’s guidance, India fielded a revamped lineup, with only Jhingan and Chhetri retaining their positions from the previous game. The attacking trio of Colaco, Singh, and Sekar, deployed behind Chhetri, faced the challenge of adjusting to unfamiliar roles on the pitch.

As the game commenced, the tempo was high, with both sides displaying their attacking intent. India’s front four interchanged rapidly, creating numerous problems for Vanuatu’s defence. However, India’s attacking play lost some fluidity when the pace slowed. Decision-making in the final third became rushed, leading to wayward passes, crosses, and shots. Even Chhetri, known for his clinical finishing, displayed signs of rustiness, most notably with a glaring miss from a free header before an open goal.

Vanuatu, on the other hand, demonstrated exceptional defensive discipline. Led by their center-backs, Kaltak and Thomas, they effectively kept India’s attacking threats at bay. Their resolute defending frustrated the Indian team and prevented them from capitalizing on their dominant spells.

Despite India’s struggles to break through, the match’s turning point came in the 81st minute. Stimac made fundamental changes, introducing Chhangte, Samad, Thapa, and Singh into the mix. The altered combination injected new energy and creativity into India’s attack. It was this revamped setup that finally unlocked Vanuatu’s defence. Thapa, Samad, and Mahesh combined brilliantly, setting up Bose for a precise cross into the box. Chhetri, ever the clinical finisher, made no mistake as he collected the ball with poise and smashed it into the net, igniting scenes of jubilation among the Indian fans.

Chhetri’s goal secured the victory and was significant for the captain. In celebration, he tucked the ball into his jersey, revealing that he and his wife were expecting a baby. Such an emotional moment added another layer of joy to his heroic strike.

Reflecting on the match, Stimac expressed frustration with India’s slow start and lacklustre performance in the first half. However, he praised his team for keeping their composure and clarity of ideas, ultimately leading to the breakthrough. The manager acknowledged the need for fresh legs in the starting lineup but emphasized maintaining competitiveness and intensity throughout the squad.

With this hard-fought victory, India tops the table in the Intercontinental Cup. Their next challenge is Lebanon; the team sits second after a goalless draw against Mongolia. The stage is set for an enthralling encounter on June 15th as India seeks to maintain their winning momentum and secure a place in the final.

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