Robin Singh scored twice in the second half as India won 2-0 against a stubborn Sri Lanka outfit in the SAFF Suzuki Cup.
Sri Lanka made as many as five changes to the line-up which won against Nepal, with Edison Figurado and Asikur Rahuman making his debut, Subash Madushan, Nipuna Bandara and Chathuranga Sanjeewa replacing Mohamed Rifnaz, Sajith Kumara, Hakeem Kamil, Nalaka Roshan and Kavindu Ishan.
India made a bright start to proceedings as they seized control of the ball straight away and forced a save from the stand in captain and Sri Lankan goalkeeper Sujan Perera who saved a header from Sunil Chhetri at his near post after the Indian skipper rose the highest to guide an Arnab Mondal cross goal wards in the 6th minute.
The tone of the game was set in the first ten minutes as Sri Lanka allowed India to have the ball while absorbing all the pressure they were put under.
However, the Lankans’ tactics were nearly undone in the 11th minute when a lapse in concentration by the Sri Lankan defender saw Jeje go clear of the Lankan defense after a brilliant through ball from Eugenson Lyngdoh, but Sujan Perera was alert to the danger and made himself big to save from the in-form Jeje.
However, India’s early vigour eventually faded past the 20-minute mark as Sri Lanka got into a solid defensive shape, which gave the Indian forwards very little gap to exploit as the Lankans nullified Robin Singh’s threat upfront by marking him tightly.
India almost managed to breach the stern Sri Lankan rearguard in the 33rd minute when Pranoy Halder very nearly picked out Jeje at the far post, but a crucial intervention by Asikur Rahuman saved the day for the men in maroon.
Three minutes later, the Lankan custodian Perera was called into action once again when Sunil Chhetri created space for a shot on the Lankan goal after cutting in from the left flank, but Perera managed to parry it away for a corner.
Sri Lanka staved off any further Indian attacks in the first half to go into the break with their clean sheet intact as they frustrated the Indians who had little answers to Sri Lanka’s rearguard action.
Stephan Constantine brought on Rowlin Borges in place of Pranoy Halder at the start of the second half as India pushed on for the breakthrough which had evaded them in the first half.
But in the 51st minute, India eventually got that vital goal which came from the boots of Robin Singh who slammed home a cut-back from Sunil Chhetri whose relentless efforts to hold onto the ball resulted in the opening on the left side which India profited from.
The goal lifted the pressure on the Indians who started to play with a bit of a swagger post the breakthrough and Sujan Perera once again earned his bread as he punched a series of crosses which were whipped in by the Indians immediately post the hour mark as the Lankans began to tire.
A sloppy piece of defending from Sri Lanka allowed Sanju Pradhan to fire in a cross from the right flank which was headed on goal from point blank range, but Sujan Perera once again stood tall to tip the bullet header over the crossbar.
However, Perera couldn’t do anything about Robin Singh’s cheeky finish in the 73rd minute which was helped into the Sri Lankan goal by Rahuman who attempted a last-ditch clearance, but in vain as India doubled their lead.
Robin Singh got injured while scoring the goal and was replaced by young Lallianzuala who made his national team debut.
India pushed on for a third goal which would have put them firmly on course to qualify for the semi-finals, but failed to breach the brilliant Sujan Perera for the third time and settled for a 2-0 win which lifted them to the top of Group A of the SAFF Suzuki Cup 2015.
ThePapare.com Man of the Match: Robin Singh (IND) & Sujan Perera (SL)