Kolkata: Sunil Chhetri, the talismanic Indian skipper, struck both goals as India started their AFC Asian Cup qualifiers campaign with a comfortable 2-0 win over Cambodia at the Salt Lake Stadium on Wednesday.
India are trying to qualify for back-to-back AFC Asia Cups for the first time ever, having done so in 2019 in the UAE - with their previous appearances coming in 2011, 1984 and 1964.
Backed by a 25,000-odd strong crowd, the hosts began on a strong note and as early as in the ninth minute, Liston Colaco had a good chance to get in behind the defence from a lucky break but a heavy touch meant the defender made his ground and cleared.
The quick-footed Liston then got a long diagonal ball from deep that he chested down, losing his marker in the process. A sudden burst of pace and he was away from another as a third defender went in for a sliding tackle to find the former coming down inside the box. The referee blew his whistle and pointed to the penalty spot, much to the chagrin of the Cambodian camp.
Chhetri stepped up to slot it past the keeper and get his 81st international goal. Cambodia, who had been absorbing India’s attacks for a better part of the match, had their defence caught napping as Chhetri yet again crept up midway in the second half to slot in a thundering header from a well-taken Brandon Fernandes corner in the 60th minute.
Chhetri had a golden chance to complete his hat-trick from yet another Brandon through ball, but his usually controlled first touch evaded him at goalmouth. He was substituted soon after and Ashique Kuruniyan took over from him while Brandon too made way for Glan Martins.
In the day game of Group D, Hong Kong beat Afghanistan 2-1.