India finally tasted victory after five straight losses in their 2018 football World Cup qualifying campaign as they beat Guam by a solitary goal here on Thursday.
The victory came despite India playing whole of the second half with 10 men after Sehnaj Singh was sent off for a dangerous tackle in the 41st minute in the Group D match which was played under constant drizzle and slippery conditions.
Robin Singh scored the all-important goal in the 10th minute at the Kanteerava Stadium to give India three points.
Despite the win, India still occupy the bottom of the five-team group with three points while Guam are just above them on seven points.
India are already out of contention for a final round berth for the 2018 World Cup but Thursday’s win has put them in a good position to qualify for the 2019 Asian Cup.
The group winners and four best runners-up teams will advance to the final round of qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Asian giants Iran and Oman are on equal 18 points after six matches in the group.
The next best 24 teams from the preliminary stage of the qualifiers will compete in a separate competition for the remaining 12 slots for the 24-team 2019 Asian Cup.
Robin put India ahead early in the match. The striker, playing in front of his Bengaluru FC home crowd, received a pass from his club mate and captain Sunil Chhetri and then cut into the Guam box by getting the better of a defender before sending the ball past a leaping goalkeeper into the net.
The home side suffered a jolt in the 41st minute after Sehnaj was shown a straight red card for a late and high tackle on Justin Lee. But Stephen Constantine’s side hung onto the lead despite incessant attack from Guam in the second half.
Goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu also did a great job under the bar by making numerous saves late in the match after Guam went all out looking for an equaliser.
The win was also a sweet revenge for India who had lost to Guam 1-2 in their away match in June. The victory will also give some respite to Constantine who have been under pressure to give results.
Before today’s match, India have not won since beating Nepal 2-0 in March in Constantine’s first match after taking over as India head coach. This was India’s second win under Constantine in nine matches. Five matches were lost and two drawn.
With the disadvantage in number, India played deep in the second half with more men in the defence and it was Guam who did most of the attack. But, the Indian backline of Sandesh Jhingan, Arnab Mondal, Pritam Kotal and Narayan Das were up to the task.
Guam, who are ranked higher in FIFA charts at 155th than the home side (172nd), pressed hard for an equaliser in the second session but it never came though they got a few chances to do that.
A goal was also disallowed in the in the 77th minute when Ryan Guy found the Indian net after a corner kick but the linesman ruled that the ball was already out of goal-line before curling its way back into play.
In the 67th minute, Mason Grimes’ free header from a Nicklaw corner-kick saw Gurpreet get down to make a save.
Just a few minutes before that, Gurpreet tipped the ball over after Mondal’s misdirected clearance almost flew in to the Indian goal.
The Indian goalkeeper was called into action again in the 76th minute when Brandon Marquee’s shot from a range took a wicked deflection off Jhingan and the Indian custodian dived to his left to concede a corner.
With Guam all out in attack, India got a couple of chances on the counter and skipper Chhetri came close to scoring in the closing moments as he found space on the left and his right footed shot missed the far corner by a few inches as the Guam goalkeeper remained stranded.
Gurpreet then made a point-blank save at the far post in the dying moments to maintain a clean sheet and protect his side’s slender lead as the game ended in favour of the home side.