MACAU : India took a giant step towards qualification for the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup, to be held in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in 2019, registering a 2-0 win over Macau in an away match at the Olympic Stadium here on Tuesday. In a one-sided contest, substitute Balwant Singh scored a brace with a header in the 57th minute and poacher's goal in the 81st minute after a mix-up by the Macau back-line.
This was India's third successive victory and they sit pretty on top of Group A with nine points. India are scheduled to face the same opponents on October 10 in the return fixture in India.
India started on a positive note as Macau seemed to be happy sitting back. Udanta and Narayan Das found ample space on the wings but the hosts managed to keep the crosses out.
Both Sunil and Jeje were heavily marked with their efforts finding the legs of the opposition defence.
Indian midfielders were dictating the game as they found acres of space near the box. Jeje cut in from the left but Sunil's powerful shot was blocked out. Narzary showed some deft footwork as he twisted and turned but his shot was kept out by the keeper.
A flurry in the 36th minute saw Nazary and Rowllin combining well but the clearance made its way to Eugeneson whose long ranger hit the crossbar. Rowllin latched on to the rebound but his shot too was saved by the goalkeeper.
A couple more chances came India's way with Jeje's header landing on the roof of the net while Narzary's perfect cross was met by Sunil only to be blocked out by the desperate Macauan defence.
India did have their chances and poor finishing robbed them of an early lead. Macau were also lucky when the crosspiece came to their rescue in the first half as the boys went into the break goal-less.
Constantine opted to introduce Balwant Singh after the break having withdrawn Eugenson Lyngdoh who saw his effort strike the crossbar in the 36th minute of the first-half.
Balwant's introduction was just what the doctor ordered as he made an impact straightaway troubling the Macau backline. Pritam Kotal's cross to him was headed just wide.
Also in the second half, a Sunil Chhetri header off a Pritam Kotal cross bounced off the crosspiece and then dropped on the goal line only to be collected by the rival goalkeeper.
A goal seemed ominous and it did arrive in the 57th minute when Balwant found the back of the net with a rising header as he met Narayan Das' perfect ball into the box.
Balwant scoring his second goal for the national team after having scored his first against Mauritius in the recently concluded Hero Tri-Nation series.
Sunil Chhetri came close on few occasions but it just wasn't his night when he saw another of his efforts being saved. Balwant could have had his second minutes later, but his effort found the side-netting.
The misery for the hosts was compounded when a terrible error by a defender led to Balwant capitalising on the goof-up and thus doubling the lead for India in the 81st minute.
This was Balwant's third goal in as many games since his reinduction in the national team.
The men at the back, too, kept things tidy, although they didn't have much to do with Macau adopting an ultra-defensive strategy all throughout and were never willing to open up.
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