Finish 3rd in King's Cup
A new-look Indian football team beat hosts Thailand 1-0 to hand head coach Igor Stimac his first win and finish third in the King's Cup tournament in Buriram, Thailand, on Saturday.
Stimac made as many as eight changes from the starting eleven which lost to Curacao 1-3 in their previous match on Wednesday with key players like Sunil Chhetri, Udanta Singh and goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu being benched.
Only Sandesh Jhingan, who led the side, Rahul Bheke and Subhasish Bose retained their places, but India still won the match through a 17th minute strike from midfielder Anirudh Thapa in the third-place match at the Thunder Castle stadium.
This is India's second win over Thailand this year, having beaten the War Elephants in a group match of the AFC Asian Cup in the UAE in January.
India had three players from that Asian Cup match in Jhingan, Subhasish Bose and Thapa while five Thai players -- Theerathon Bunmathan, Tristan Do, Thitiphan Puangchan, Jaided Supachai and captain Teerasil Dangda -- survived from that team.
Amrinder Singh replaced Gurpreet under the bar, with Adil Khan, Thapa, Vinit Rai, Farukh Choudhary, Balwant Singh coming into the starting eleven, along with Amarjit Singh and Raynier Fernandes.
Thapa, who had also scored in India's last meeting against Thailand in the Asian Cup, silenced the hostile home supporters with his goal in the 17th minute. Following a free-kick, Adil latched onto a loose clearance at the top of the Thai box, and played it delectably behind the defence line for Thapa to put India into the lead.
Adil, in fact, could have broken the deadlock in the sixth minute itself but his powerful header sailed over the crossbar.
Stimac said the win was due to excellent defending.
"That (defending) was fantastic. I was a defender playing at the top level. I can show a few things to the boys, and that is what we have been doing in the last two weeks -- explaining things to the players, and working on the pitch," he said.
"In the second half, Thailand were very organised. They were trying to attack from the wings, and put quality crosses. But my defenders were fantastic today. It was just not possible for Thailand to score today with my defenders working like this," said the Croatian World Cup bronze winner.
"After we scored the goal, we allowed Thailand to take possession. We did not insist on possession. We tried to hold, and hurt them on counter attacks. Off one such counter, we could have finished the game in the first-half itself. But two of my players were a little bit indecisive in front of the goalkeeper," the Croatian said later.
In the 21st minute, Thai skipper Dangda's powerful back-volley found the target, but he was ruled offside. The hosts switched the gear after the half-hour mark but the Indian defenders, led by Jhingan, showed their resilience to keep them at bay.
Adil, who had an impressive match along with Thapa, denied the lethal duo of Terrasil and Tristan twice.
India had their best opportunity to double the lead at the stroke of half-time. Adil played a long ball for Farukh who beat the off-side trap, and ran onto the rival box. But as he hesitated and passed it to onrushing Balwant Singh, rival defender Theerathaon recovered in time to make the clearance.
Changing over, Thailand came out all guns blazing, but the Indians defended stubbornly.
Farukh came very close to scoring his first international goal in the 50th minute but his effort from 20 yards bounced off the post. On the rebound, Balwant's right-footed shot hit the side-netting.
In the 60th minute, Terrasil made a terrific attempt but Jhingan's timely block saved the situation.
Nine minutes later, Thai goalkeeper Siwarak misjudged Theerathon's backpass and could have ended up conceding an own-goal but the ball hit the goal post to save Thailand once again.
In the process of making a desperate clearance, defender Suphan Thongsong hurt himself, and had to be stretchered off.
Stimac introduced Manvir Singh, Jackichand Singh and Abdul Sahal in the second half. Within seconds of coming in, Sahal sprinted down at the heart of the pitch before passing the ball to Thapa, but the latter waited for that split extra second to allow the rival defence close it down.
Chamrasee, who came off the bench, could have broken Indian hearts in the 88th minute. But he mistimed the header off a curling free-kick. In the added time, Amrinder made a blinder of a save to deny Thai skipper Terrasil once again.
"I have competition in my team for every place and that's what makes me helpless as a coach."