Back in the AFC Asian Cup after an eight-year wait, India kicked-off their campaign in Asia' elite football tournament in style as they register a thumping 4-1 win over Thailand here at the Al Nahyan Stadium on Sunday.
A brace from talismanic striker Sunil Chhetri, a goal from Anirudh Thapa and a sublime finish by Jeje Lalpekhlua rounded India's first victory in the Asian Cup since 1964.
Some attacking football on the field, a superb performance in the second half, non-stop pressing and no-nonsense defending remained some of the highlights of India's historic win against Thailand. With the pairing of Sandesh Jhingan and Anas commanding the backline, India's defensive compactness in the early minutes proved to be stubborn.
India closed down quicker in the midfield, not allowing their players time on the ball. It only provided the time for the likes of Ashique Kuruniyan and Anirudh Thapa to dictate play in an attacking stance. And although Thailand dominated possession, India had the better of the chances and they showed bright signs around the opponent's 18-yard box.
Ashique Kuruniyan's pace and tackiness down the left wing gave India an opportunity to score as early as the 3rd minute. India surged into the lead in the 27th minute. A quick throw-in by Sunil Chhetri on the left flank released Ashique on the flanks and the latter burst through the Thai defence to earn a penalty kick. Chhetri, as composed as ever, converted from the spot.
The Indian players, however, could not hold to the lead for long. In the 33rd minute, Thailand equalized after Teerasil Dangda's header crashed into the Indian net from a free-kick.
Changing over, India regained their lead as a brilliant strike from Chhetri did the trick for them. Chhetri banged it in from the top box off an Ashique back-heel. Chhetri almost scored his hat-trick in the 63rd minute when Thailand's goalkeeper Bootprom muffed a cross pass from Udanta, but Chhetri's effort was saved for a corner.
By then it was all about India in the midfield. Following an exquisite defence-splitting pass from Chhetri, Udanta teed-off Anirudh Thapa in the box for the latter to chip into the net over two helpless Thai defenders and the goalkeeper.
Substitute player Jeje's strike in the 80th minute sealed the fate for India. He received the pass from Halicharan on the top of the box, turned in a flash and placed it with the edge of his boot.
India will take on hosts UAE in their second match of the tournament which is slated to be held on January 10.